Horowitz: Mike Pence - The Best of Some Bad Options

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

 

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While Donald Trump’s selection of Governor Mike Pence (R-IN) as his Vice-Presidential candidate is decidedly underwhelming, Trump supporters should still be breathing a sigh of relief. . Given that choosing either of the other 2 finalists, Chris Christie or Newt Gingrich, was flirting with political disaster, picking the stolid Indiana Governor was by far the best of the bad remaining options

Trump’s Vice-Presidential dilemma was created by the fact that the most politically appealing choices, such as Governor John Kasich(R-OH) and Senator Marco Rubio(R- FL) made it clear that they had no interest in being the businessman’s running-mate.  Of the remaining options, the person that Trump’s pollster, based on testing candidate descriptions, thought would add the most to the ticket was retired Lt. General Mike Flynn, former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He would do the most to shore up Trump’s perceived weaknesses in foreign policy.  But after a couple of shaky television appearances—one in which he declared that he was pro-choice and then was forced to issue a clarifying statement afterwards—Flynn was understandably removed from the short list.

Christie and Gingrich were both much closer to Trump personally than Pence. But both would have brought big downsides.  As Trump was wavering about the decision this past Thursday and supposedly still considering Christie, the New Jersey Governor’s close advisor and hand-picked appointee to Chair the Port Authority of NY & NJ, David Samson, pleaded guilty to bribery for pressuring United Airlines to continue a money losing weekly flight from NJ to his vacation home in South Carolina for his personal convenience, holding up their proposals in front of the agency until he got his way  With-in the Port Authority they called it the ‘Chairman's flight”. This case was  an outgrowth of the Bridgegate investigation.  

Even more potentially damaging, the Bridgegate trial of two former Christie aides is slated for September. This promises to cast a harsh spotlight on the Christie Administration during the critical fall campaign window.  Additionally, the defense is going to argue that Christie knew all about the plan to shut down local toll lanes as political payback for the Ft. Lee Mayor’s refusal to endorse the Governor for re-election.

Newt Gingrich is unpopular with the general electorate and has made a treasure trove of impolitic and outrageous remarks over the years.  As recently as this weekend, he called for deporting any Muslim who believes in Sharia Law—a proposal he later admitted would be impossible to implement.  Perhaps the only person in American politics who out-rivals Gingrich on this score is Trump himself. Since at the end of the day, Vice Presidential candidates don’t usually make much of a positive difference, you want to make sure they do no harm.

This brings us to Mike Pence—the process of elimination choice.  On the plus side, Pence will help with social conservatives and with party unity. He is respected and liked by both Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell as well as most other Republican office-holders. Given how divided the GOP remains, this is undeniably helpful. He is also likely to stay on message and not create problems. My guess, however, is he will not be much help in wining over the  Republican voters who are most resistant to Trump,  college educated, wealthier suburbanites.  And his strident opposition to Planned Parenthood and opposition to gay rights may repel some swing women voters. Nor do I buy that Pence will be all that much of an asset in the Mid-west; he is unpopular in his home state of Indiana and his regional appeal is limited at best.

All-in-all, however, Pence is still Trump’s best choice, bringing at least some upside and most importantly, limited downside.  Either Christie or Gingrich would have made my day.

 

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island

 

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