Putting a rest to weeks of speculation Donald Trump tweets today that Indiana Governor Mike Pence is his pick as running mate. Pence, a former House member as well as a governor buys Trump ties to the world of Republican Party officialdom, and seems like part of a clear effort to normalize his campaign and make him fit in more as a conventional member of the GOP.
I am pleased to announce that I have chosen Governor Mike Pence as my Vice Presidential running mate. News conference tomorrow at 11:00 A.M.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 15, 2016
The downside of Pence for Trump is that he’s a pretty boring pick who doesn’t add any excitement or pizzazz to the ticket. Indiana isn’t a state that could put Trump over the top, Pence isn’t popular in Indiana anyway, and Pence does nothing in particular to broaden Trump’s electoral base of older white people.
But by the same token, the Pence choice offers a rare example of Trump doing something dull, vaguely responsible, and in line with what party leaders would like to see. It offers Republican Party elected officials and conservative ideological activists who see themselves as stuck with Trump an important ray of (perhaps false) hope that Trump is assimilating into their movement and will be swayed by their desires on the vast range of personnel matters that land on the president’s desk.
Who is Mike Pence?
In the late 1980s, Pence was a young lawyer and conservative activist in Indiana who launched two failed congressional bids before getting a job as the president of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, a state-level conservative think tank. After a few years, he left the world of think tanking for the less intellectually demanding work of regional conservative talk radio, before winning a seat in the US House of Representatives in November of 2000.
During the Bush years, Pence positioned himself as a right-wing factional leader — participating in rebellions against Bush’s Medicare expansion and immigration reform proposals and running as the "true conservative" alternative to John Boehner in the 2006 race for House minority leader. (He lost, and it wasn’t close.)
Early in the Obama years, Pence was frequently on television making the case against the new president’s policies, and he seemed well-positioned to capitalize on the wave of Tea Party fervor that swept the GOP in 2009. But he blinked and opted out of a 2010 Senate bid, and rapidly found his star somewhat obscured by the rapid ascent of Paul Ryan.
In 2012, Pence got out of dodge by successfully running for governor of Indiana. Ensconced there, he’s operated largely out of the limelight — a conservative governor of a conservative state who briefly popped up in the headlines with a fight on a religious freedom bill but also took a surprisingly moderate tack by embracing Medicaid expansion. That left him an also-ran amid a very crowded field of potential 2016 contenders, and Pence opted to forgo a race in favor of focusing on his reelection this year.
Pence shows Trump trying to be normal
Pence’s history as a right-wing rebel against the GOP congressional leadership shows he’s not part of the dread "establishment."
But at the end of the day, Pence is a pretty normal midwestern Republican Party politician. He’s been in congress and he’s ran a state. He knows major conservative donors and interest groups. He knows Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and most other important Republicans in congress. On the ticket, he can be a bridge between Trump’s inner circle and those kind of people.
Even better, his selection raises the hope that if he wins a Trump administration will be mostly staffed by mostly pretty normal Mike Pence types. It’s a strong statement not so much to voters as to Republican Party elites that Trump is a guy you can do business with and ought to back enthusiastically in November whether or not you thought nominating him was a wise choice.