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Why Mike Pence Will Not Help Donald Trump’s Chances

July 15, 2016, 10:51 PM UTC
Presumptive US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) and Indiana Governor Mike Pence (L) take the stage during a campaign rally at Grant Park Event Center in Westfield, Indiana, on July 12, 2016. / AFP / Tasos KATOPODIS (Photo credit should read TASOS KATOPODIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Donald Trump botched the announcement of his selection of Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate, but the pick itself may prove even more problematic.
Choosing Pence, to be sure, may boost Trump’s appeal with the blue collar white voters who make up his base; Pence is an evangelical who calls himself “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican.”
Pence has political experience Trump lacks; he spent a decade in the House of Representatives before his 2012 election as governor. And Pence projects calm and gravitas, marking a contrast to Trump. The pick might sooth concerns of voters tempted to vote for Trump but worried about giving him nuclear codes or control of the Treasury.
But appealing to voters already leaning his way is an insufficient tactic for a candidate that around 60% of voters don’t like. And it’s hard to see how Pence will help Trump expand his appeal.
Pence has called Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from the United States “offensive and unconstitutional.” Picking the Indiana governor may be a sign that Trump is backing off that proposal. But Pence’s record will not help Trump reverse his catastrophically bad standing with minorities. And he could even worsen the presumptive nominee’s unpopularity with women as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender voters.
Pence is stridently pro-life. He has said he longed “for the day that Roe v. Wade is sent to the ash heap of history,” and that he was willing to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood.
Pence is also out of step with Trump and a growing contingent of Republicans who support same sex marriage. In 2015, Pence stumbled into a national controversy when he signed a bill that allowed businesses to ignore local nondiscrimination laws and to deny services to people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. That is the kind of battle business-friendly Republicans strive to avoid.
In Indiana, Pence supported corporate tax cuts. And he differs with Trump’s protectionist views on trade and immigration, making Pence more business-friendly than the billionaire businessman on a few issues.
But any points those stances may win Pence with business groups and Wall Street will be offset by his status as not only an opponent but lead spokesman against the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or the bailout, in 2008. While that stance was and remains an easy sell to populist voters, it remains a bitter memory for many fiscally conservative voters who felt opponents of the Bush administration-backed bailout endangered the economy.
The Republican-leaning U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which aggressively advocated for the bailout bill, did not mention Pence’s position in a tepid statement on Friday.
“Gov. Pence has a strong pro-business record both in Congress and as Governor, and we hope he will continue to advance policies that will drive economic growth and job creation on the presidential ticket,” the group said. “We look forward to working with both nominees and their running mates to get America back on track.”
Pence also opposed the 2009 auto bailout which, like the bank bailout, is now widely considered to have been effective, if far from universally popular. That position was among a series of past stances of Pence’s that Hillary Clinton’s campaign was faulting on Friday.
Pence’s opposition to the bank bailout is just one reason the VP pick will not help Trump fill the gap in fundraising between the two campaigns. And Pence lacks connections to deep-pocketed GOP donors.
Pence has previously supported privatizing Social Security and Medicare. Those positions form part of a long record that give Democrats a target and a way to tie Trump to the kind of controversial Republican proposals he has so far avoided because he has never held office.
Pence does not appear able to help Trump overcome his deficits with most voters, though it is unlikely anyone could. Political operatives and academics generally agree that vice presidential selections make little difference in races.
“The running mate has little effect on the election’s outcome,” Karl Rove, the former top political aide to President George W. Bush, recently wrote. Though Rove added that “the choice and the decision-making process contribute to the impression voters develop about the nominee’s leadership abilities.”
Picking Pence may have some effect on voters’ views of Trump, but the race will ultimately hinge on Trump himself.