Donald Trump and Mike Pence are a mismatched political pair

Top of the Ticket cartoon
(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

Donald Trump and Mike Pence are quite the odd couple. Pence and Trump disagree on a significant list of issues, including trade, gay marriage, the Iraq war, Medicaid expansion, entitlements and immigration of Muslims. One of them, Pence, is a veteran politician, the other, Trump, cannot claim a single day of governmental experience. Pence is a believer in the inerrancy of the Bible while Trump is not sure the Good Book is any better than his own bit of gospel, “The Art of the Deal.” And while Pence dutifully recites from the standard conservative script, Trump says whatever pops into his head at any given moment.

The only thing the two seem to have in common is that both of them shun alcohol. Trump claims the devil’s brew has never crossed his lips. Pence refuses to attend any event at which alcohol is served, unless his wife comes along to shield him from temptation.


Nevertheless, despite the dissonance of their pairing, it was Pence in the running mate’s honored seat at the Republican National Convention on Monday night, not New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Christie would have been Trump’s match in feistiness. Gingrich would have been as prone to make controversial pronouncements as Trump. But, for once, Trump refrained from indulging his own impulses and, instead, followed the advice of cooler heads and made a boring pick for vice president.

In their first joint interview, on CBS’ “60 Minutes” Sunday night, the contrast in rhetorical style could not have been more clear. Asked about how to combat Islamic State, Trump sounded, as usual, like a guy on a bar stool who speaks in broad and sometimes contradictory generalities. In the interview, he pledged to “declare war against ISIS” because they “want to wipe us out,” but said he could accomplish this with “very few troops on the ground” and “unbelievable intelligence.”

Taking his own stab at the question, Pence delivered a well-rehearsed poke at the opposition, attributing all the recent headline-making events -- from terror attacks in France to the aborted coup in Turkey -- to the “foreign policy of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama that has led from behind and that has sent an inexact, unclear message about American resolve.”

Though he is a man of lackluster accomplishments — he passed zero bills during his dozen years in Congress and has seen his popularity sink as Indiana’s governor — Pence is still a calming choice for Republicans who have been rattled by Trump’s provocative Twitter posts and elastic political principles. Pence is a stolid, Max Headroom lookalike with very conservative views on social issues. The only time he has disappointed the religious right is when he backed down from signing a state law in Indiana that would have given business owners the right to claim a religious exemption from serving gay people. Despite that, he will shore up support among at least some of the evangelicals who are dubious about Trump’s thin religious credentials, benign view of Planned Parenthood and history of divorces, philandering and shady business practices.

Does a governor of reliably red Indiana add much to the ticket? Not really. Though pleasing folks on the religious right, his strongly conservative views on abortion, gays and religion may scare away libertarians and moderate women. Sure, at the convention this week Republicans will cheer the choice, but do not be surprised if, thereafter, Mike Pence disappears in Trump’s shadow as The Donald hogs the spotlight’s bright glare.

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