Whither Mike Pence
Vice President Mike Pence started this past Thursday off by making a rare comment about the ongoing special counsel investigation, but it was events from earlier in the week that were still on the mind of many folks. Speaking to NBC News, VP Pence called for a “wrapping up” of SC Mueller’s investigation:
Meanwhile, Pence also said that while his administration would “continue” to cooperate with the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 race, he would prefer to see the probe come to an end —and soon.
“It’s been about a year since this investigation began. Our administration’s provided over a million documents. We’ve fully cooperated in it. And in the interest of the country, I think it’s time to wrap it up,” the vice president said. “ And I would very respectfully encourage the special counsel and his team to bring their work to completion.”
Pence made headlines last week with comments at an event in Arizona in which he lavishly praised former sheriff and Trump pardon recipient Joe Arpaio. “I’m honored to have you here,” the VP remarked, calling Arpaio a, “tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law.”
This brought swift reaction from both sides of the political spectrum.
Willa Frej writing in HuffPost:
Arpaio, who is running for Senate in Arizona, engaged in unlawful policing and racial profiling during his time as sheriff, a 2011 report by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division determined.
His officers stopped Latino drivers four to nine times more frequently than they stopped others, and Arpaio became known for using derogatory terms such as “Mexican bitches.” He also oversaw a series of bizarre and draconian tactics in his county’s prison system, including forcing some people to parade around in pink underwear and reportedly calling his state’s jail a “concentration camp.” His office also ignored hundreds of sex abuse cases, according to an Associated Press investigation.
“Mike Pence’s all-but-endorsement of Joe Arpaio proves that there is no end in sight for the divisive and increasingly nasty fight for the GOP nomination,” Arizona Democratic Party spokesman Drew Anderson said in a statement. “Arizonans want leaders who will get things done, not just partisan politicians who will add to the chaos in Washington.”
Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt last year for violating a 2011 order that barred him and his staff from detaining people based on their suspected immigration status.
And this is the person Pence said he was “honored” to have there and who he said was a “tireless champion” of “rule of law.”
Nothing about Sheriff Joe Arpaio resembles any sort of justice or law and order under the United States Constitution, and it is disgraceful for Pence to pretend otherwise.
Donald Trump, with his feral cunning, knew. The oleaginous Mike Pence, with his talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness, could, Trump knew, become America’s most repulsive public figure. And Pence, who has reached this pinnacle by dethroning his benefactor, is augmenting the public stock of useful knowledge. Because his is the authentic voice of today’s lickspittle Republican Party, he clarifies this year’s elections: Vote Republican to ratify groveling as governing.
Last June, a Trump Cabinet meeting featured testimonials offered to Dear Leader by his forelock-tugging colleagues. His chief of staff, Reince Priebus, caught the spirit of the worship service by thanking Trump for the “blessing” of being allowed to serve him. The hosannas poured forth from around the table, unredeemed by even a scintilla of insincerity. Priebus was soon deprived of his blessing, as was Tom Price. Before Price’s ecstasy of public service was truncated because of his incontinent enthusiasm for charter flights, he was the secretary of health and human services who at the Cabinet meeting said, “I can’t thank you enough for the privileges you’ve given me.” The vice president chimed in but saved his best riff for a December Cabinet meeting when, as The Post’s Aaron Blake calculated, Pence praised Trump once every 12 seconds for three minutes: “I’m deeply humbled… ” Judging by the number of times Pence announces himself “humbled,” he might seem proud of his humility, but that is impossible because he is conspicuously devout and pride is a sin.
Whether one goes too far in accusing Pence of a Faustian bargain, as Will does, it was clear from the beginning that he was to be the counterweight to Donald Trump when added to the 2016 presidential campaign. From the NY Times retrospective on then-candidate Trump’s selection of a running mate:
In Mr. Pence, the presumptive Republican nominee has found a running mate with unimpeachable conservative credentials, warm relationships in Washington and a vast reservoir of good will with the Christian right. National Republican leaders, including the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, had pronounced Mr. Pence an excellent choice in advance of Mr. Trump’s announcement.
Mr. Pence is viewed as a sturdy and dependable politician by Republicans in Indiana and Washington, and chided Mr. Trump for his proposal to bar Muslims from entering the United States, calling it “offensive and unconstitutional” in a Twitter post in December.
But if selecting Mr. Pence would seem to be a concession to standard political imperatives, the move is also a gamble for Mr. Trump, who has typically valued his allies for their deep loyalty and public feistiness, rather than for the workmanlike political abilities that Mr. Pence embodies.
Mr. Pence also has a record of hard-line views on cultural issues that Mr. Trump has tended to play down in the presidential race. Mr. Pence has advocated defunding Planned Parenthood and restricting abortion rights, and he signed a religious exceptions law that critics said would lead to discrimination against gay men and lesbians.
Mr. Pence was mobbed by reporters as he left the Intercontinental Hotel in Midtown Manhattan in the early afternoon, sporting a big smile. He pronounced himself “very humbled, very grateful” to be chosen.
All of which begs the question of how the Vice President’s role might change going forward, a matter on which the Atlantic’s McKay Coppins speculated back in February, when he noted a sentiment that has quietly remained in the background since that day of selection nearly two years ago:
In an embattled White House, the question of the vice president’s ambition for higher office is radioactive. When The New York Times reported last summer that Pence appeared to be laying the groundwork for a 2020 presidential bid, he denied the “disgraceful and offensive” story with theatrical force. But Pence has shown that his next move is never far from his mind—and he’s hardly the only one weighing the possibilities. One senior GOP Senate aide told me that pundits miss the point when they speculate about what kind of scandal it would take for the president to face a serious defection from lawmakers of his own party.
“It’s not a matter of when Republicans are ready to turn on Trump,” the aide said. “It’s about when they decide they’re ready for President Pence.”
But has that calculus changed with VP Pence’s actions since? Harkening back to Will’s column, NYMag seems to think so:
Now even more than in 2016, when Will never even came close to coming to the aid of his party, the columnist is self-isolated in openly encouraging Democratic votes in November. But his contempt for Pence nonetheless signifies that if the whole Trump political enterprise comes to grief, the vice-president no longer has the reputation for independence that could make him the politician to pick up the pieces. He’s worked very hard to become Trump’s most loyal acolyte. He cannot survive the destruction of his boss’s cult.
Steve Schmidt appearing on MSNBC was even harsher:
Amid the controversy, the Vice President might have thought he would find some respite among friendly confines on Saturday, May 12th, when he is schedule to give the commencement address at stalwart conservative Hillsdale College. But even there, the debate rages, per Politico:
Students like (Washington Free Beacon’s Micah) Meadowcroft work to hold Hillsdale to its founding ideals, just as the public-facing college claims to do for the whole country. They also welcome scrutiny of the political views their school promotes. “Hillsdale is conservative, not right wing,” explains one op-ed in the student paper, the Hillsdale Collegian, cited to me several times as an example of internal resistance to public displays of partisanship. Most Hillsdale graduates don’t go into politics, and the majority, I’m told, are culturally conservative but not party-line GOPers.
That doesn’t mean that politics don’t come up. In the run-up to Pence’s commencement speech, the ongoing battle for the soul of the Republican Party played out microcosmically among undergraduates—in the same way college students elsewhere would debate the legitimacy of a politically incorrect mascot or adjustments to the on-campus meal plan.
The staff of the Hillsdale Collegian—a robust and objective student paper whose alumni include multiple Wall Street Journal editorial writers, the Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff, and award-winning investigative journalist Liz Essley Whyte among others—describe a healthy tension between the academic priorities of student life and the political affiliations of the school’s public face.
Writers and one editor on staff at the Collegian told me about a recent incident concerning the vice president’s speech. In addition to an article announcing that Pence would deliver that year’s keynote, the Collegian had run a web-only process piece detailing the system of speaker selection, by which an elected board of upperclassmen polls their classmates and chooses, in concert with Arnn, three speakers to invite. The story revealed that the students’ first two choices—comedian Tim Allen and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to an early story draft—had declined Hillsdale’s invitation.
But that same day, the process piece disappeared.
One editor posted a message in the Hillsdale Collegian’s Facebook group, “Where is the other commencement story?” The editor-in-chief, a promising journalist with multiple internships under her belt, replied about an hour later: “We took it down from the website. Administration asked.”
“We were told to take down the story because it would make whoever was chosen look bad, just by saying who was asked first and second,” one Collegian staffer explained. But this student also explained that Allen and Rumsfeld were speakers “the student body could agree on, because they didn’t have a controversial political affiliation. … All of the sudden, we’re going to hear from a vice president who not all of us agree has an understanding of the ‘Good Life’ and is associated with Trump, who definitely does not fit with anything that we’re taught to value.
But there is also pushback in defending Pence as just doing his job, such as this from Derek Hunter in The Daily Caller:
Liberals and Never Trump Republicans have a new “history’s greatest monster.” After more than a year of non-stop attacks on President Donald Trump without denting his popularity, they’ve switched targets to Vice President Mike Pence. They are now angry with Pence for being too nice to the president in public, saying too many nice things.
The job of VP is basically to attend state funerals and be the Jerome to any president’s Morris Day — a hype man who pumps them up, takes their coat and holds the mirror so they can check themselves out. But for George Will, Don Lemon and Rick Wilson, he’s a monster because he’s not calling Trump evil every 20 minutes. You can’t make this stuff up.
To be fair, no vice president in recent history has publicly defied his superior on a political matter. But with the “he’s just doing his job” defense comes the concession that, despite what some previously said, Pence is forever now linked to Trump. The Vice President’s future success or failure will be symbiotic with the man he was once considered to counterbalance.
But Mike Pence, the experienced politician, knew that going in.
Or, as President Trump might put it, he knew what he was signing up for.
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