Column: It’s time for Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to make up his mind if he’s for or against Donald Trump

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks during the Indiana Republican Party spring dinner in Indianapolis on April 21.
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

Someone slap a photo of Mike Pence on a milk carton.

The Indiana governor may not have been abducted, but he’s certainly missing in action on the central question facing the Republican Party: Are you with Trump, or against him?

Pence is not alone on the sidelines, of course. But the crowd of politicians with wet fingers trying to determine which way the wind is blowing doesn’t matter. Pence does. If Donald Trump loses the Indiana primary May 3, it is all but certain he will fall short of the 1,237 delegates necessary to win the nomination on the first ballot. Indiana is now the Gates of Vienna for stopping the Trumpian takeover of the GOP.

If current general-election poll results are even remotely accurate, Trump will go down to a defeat of biblical proportions in November.

That’s why Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have struck a deal to coordinate their campaigns to keep Trump from winning there. Kasich is dropping out of the Indiana race, and Cruz will clear a path for Kasich in New Mexico and Oregon. There’s nothing unusual about campaigns coordinating this way, what is unusual is their decision to make the deal public. It’s a united front against the longtime Democrat turned Republican pretender.

And where is Pence? In his bunker insisting that he’s “for anybody but Hillary and Bernie Sanders.”


To be fair, Pence is in a pickle because he’s up for reelection in 2016 and the beleaguered Hoosier thinks he can’t afford to alienate any Republican voters. Boo hoo.

If current general-election poll results are even remotely accurate, Trump will go down to a defeat of biblical proportions in November. His standing with women is so low, he even puts automatic Republican states such as Mississippi — and Utah! — into play. Meanwhile, in many of the swing states that any Republican nominee has to win, Hillary Clinton trounces Trump.

Trump’s new de facto campaign manager, Paul J. Manafort, recently told fellow Republican insiders not to worry. All of this can be overcome because Trump’s vulnerabilities merely reflect “personality” problems while Clinton’s reflect “character” issues. “Fixing personality negatives is a lot easier than fixing character negatives,” Manafort said. “You can’t change somebody’s character, but you can change the way a person presents himself.”

Let’s say it’s possible that “personality” and “character” aren’t synonymous in the minds of voters. But the notion that Trump — a litigious, thrice-married confessed adulterer with a history of hawking snake oil products among other sketchy business practices — has no “character” issues must have Clinton’s opposition research team spit-taking lattes out their noses.

Trump says he can start “acting presidential” with a flip of a switch, but does anyone who is not besotted with Trump Kool-Aid think this is actually possible?

Pence is surely aware of Trump’s unfavorables. But what he may not have considered is that when Trump loses in a landslide, the recriminations will be ferocious. The postmortems will undoubtedly focus on who had a chance to stop Trump when it was possible. Among the first in the dock: the Hamlet of the Hoosiers.

Most conservatives in Indiana have rallied to Cruz’s side already. Curt Smith, the president of the Indiana Family Institute, told the Washington Examiner that Pence would “lock in his base” by endorsing Cruz, giving Cruz the advantage of Pence’s well-organized ground forces. Scott Walker, the governor of neighboring Wisconsin, helped deliver Cruz’s blowout victory there last month. It’s unlikely he’ll regret that decision down the road.

Then of course there’s the case for supporting Cruz on the merits.

As I’ve been saying for months, the Republican primary season will end in tears no matter what. If Trump is the nominee, many conservatives will stay home or vote for a third-party candidate. If he’s not the nominee, many of Trump’s supporters will stay home. So why not fall back on principle and pick a side?

Pence has spent his career cultivating a reputation as a principled, full-spectrum conservative with a populist’s disdain for D.C. Beltway games. In other words, he is entirely simpatico with Cruz ideologically. With Kasich out in Indiana, Pence can no longer claim that voters don’t face a stark choice. It’s time for him to show that he has the courage of his convictions.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion and Facebook