Donald Trump named Mike Pence as his running mate Saturday, roughly 48 hours after everyone knew the Indiana governor was his pick. Regardless of the odd timing and zany rollout, there are a lot of reasons to recommend Pence as the best choice Trump could have made from his vice-presidential shortlist. Here are five.
1. Trump needs to reassure the GOP establishment.
For all of his bluster about how he will go it alone if the Republican establishment does not get behind him forcefully enough, it was clear in my conversation with Trump last week that he grasped the need to find a way to placate party leaders — and soon. In that conversation, Trump touted the unifying potential in picking a politician who had the approval of the establishment. He will have that in Pence.(Here’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on rumors of the Pence pick.)
Pence is someone who spent time in the House GOP leadership before returning to Indiana to run for governor in 2012. He was seen as a possible future House speaker. He was widely rumored to be looking at the 2016 presidential race. He was viewed as a major rising star in the party by the establishment until he badly mishandled the debate in his state over what some call religious-freedom issues. His ultimate decision left no one happy with him — or it.
Even so, Pence is the sort of pick McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) — a Pence friend — can easily and enthusiastically get behind. And that’s exactly what Trump needs.
2. Trump needs to reassure social conservatives.
Although Trump carried the evangelical Christian vote in a surprising number of states during the Republican primary process, significant doubt remains about whether he is really one of them — or is even committed to social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Trump’s dismissiveness about his religious beliefs and his past positions on some of those divisive social issues have only stoked concern.
The Fix's Chris Cillizza explains why Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) was the best vice presidential pick of the candidates Donald Trump was considering. The Fix's Chris Cillizza explains why Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) was the best vice presidential pick of the candidates Donald Trump was considering. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)
The Fix's Chris Cillizza explains why Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) was the best vice presidential pick of the candidates Donald Trump was considering. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)
In Pence, Trump would be getting someone who is widely regarded as a front-line fighter for social conservatives; Pence often describes himself as a “Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” He led the 2011 fight to defund Planned Parenthood in the House. (Worth noting: His backtracking on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act made some social conservatives skeptical of him.)
3. Trump needs the industrial Midwest.
If you look at an electoral map of the country, it’s very clear that unless Trump can find a way to make the Rust Belt competitive, he can’t win.Remember that this is what the 2012 map looked liked — when Mitt Romney took just 206 electoral votes.
Without finding a way to put Ohio, Pennsylvania, and maybe even Michigan or Wisconsin in play, Trump would have to run the table of traditional swing states. There would be zero margin for error. Possible, but far from likely.
Putting Pence on the ticket does not suddenly guarantee that Trump wins in the parts of the Midwest that he needs. But putting a son of that region on the ticket should give Trump an effective messenger across that area. Pence can say, “I get it, because I’m one of you,” in Wisconsin or Pennsylvania or Ohio and have real credibility.
4. Trump needs the Koch brothers.
It’s no secret that lots of major Republican donors are sitting on the sidelines of the presidential race, concerned that Trump lacks the message discipline or core conservative beliefs that would make him worth their investment. And it’s also no secret that the two biggest players in Republican money circles are Charles and David Koch.
“We are happy to talk to anybody and hope they understand where we’re coming from, and they will have more constructive positions than they’ve had,” Charles Koch told USA Today ahead of a June meeting with the Trump team.
Freeing up that Koch money — and some other major-dollar donors who would probably follow suit — is of critical importance to Trump, who is being badly outspent by Hillary Clinton and her super PAC allies.
There are few politicians in the country more tied into the Koch world than Pence. Marc Short, Pence’s onetime chief of staff in Congress, is now an uppity-up in the world of the Kochs, and he is one of a number of former Pence staff members who work under the umbrella of the Koch brothers’ organization.
Pence’s close ties to the Kochs give Trump the best shot he is going to have to persuade some of the party’s biggest fundraising wheels to jump onboard. (Worth noting: Matea Gold, The Washington Post’s terrific campaign reporter, talked to a Koch spokesman who said the Koch network still had no plans to get involved in the presidential race.)
5. Trump needs some message discipline.
Trump is one of the least on-message politicians in modern political history. Pence is his exact opposite: relentlessly on message at all times, to the point of boredom and frustration. Pence is also deeply cautious (watch his brutally tepid endorsement of Sen. Ted Cruz before the Indiana primary) and almost always looks (and looks) before he leaps.
Pence’s precision and caution will not fundamentally alter Trump’s I-do-what-I-feel-like approach to politics. But think about the alternative — as in former House speaker Newt Gingrich or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Both men have built political careers on their willingness to go off-script, to freelance, to “tell it like it is.”
Trump does not need another one of those on the ticket with him. He has enough of that trait himself to last a lifetime.