Get ready for one of the most interesting political weeks we’ve had in a long time. The Republicans will be meeting in Cleveland to anoint Donald Trump and his water carrier Mike Pence as the standard bearers of the party of Lincoln. Never mind that they couldn’t be trusted to wash Honest Abe’s skivvies correctly, much less run the country.
There are a number of pundits who have applauded Trump’s VP pick as pragmatic, as a sign that he is playing to win, and as proof that he is going to run a diligent campaign. Hogwash. This pick is a sop to the right-wing of the party in an attempt to unify what will not be unified this year. Choosing Mike Pence says to the rest of the country that the Republicans are going to run a campaign based on fear of immigrants, denial of climate change, discrimination of every letter in the LGBTQ community, Islamophobia, tax cuts for the wealthy, extreme anti-choice laws and the America First slogan – a slogan that hearkens back to our isolationist past that almost kept the United States from helping Great Britain and France during the dark days of the late 1930s. In short, it’s a terrible pick for a party that wants to be more inclusive, relevant and tolerant.
The worst part of the decision, politically at least, is that it will do nothing for the ticket. Indiana will vote Republican in November and Pence doesn’t bring anything exciting or different or newsworthy. He’s safe, and maybe that’s what the GOP wants given that Trump is decidedly dangerous, but it’s too safe a pick. Weren’t there any innovative GOP governors or women or people of color in the party willing to run with Trump? Perhaps not. Or maybe there are too many smart righties who see the coming Trump electoral disaster and don’t want to be on that train. In any case, Pence will not really bring anyone new to the party and might even dissuade some moderates from supporting the ticket.
Still, Pence has to be seen as a better pick that Chris Christie, who shamelessly grovelled (can you grovel with dignity?) for the vice presidency. So desperate is Christie to get out of New Jersey that he was politicking for the job even after word leaked that Pence was going to be the pick. It’s been a spectacular free-fall for Governor Christie since he won reelection on the heels of doing very little except talking after Sandy devastated the state in 2012. After all, many New Jerseyans are still trying to rebuild their homes or, worse, have lost their houses, savings, lawsuits, dignity and trust in the state after contractors and legislators fleeced them over the past four years.
Christie is even going so far as attempting to bribe the suburban school districts with state money at the expense of urban schools, and is playing a dangerous game of chicken with the state’s roads and bridges by tying a 23 cent rise in the gas tax to a one percent cut in the sales tax. The former is needed; the latter will starve the state of needed revenue to pay for other things. The best Christie can hope for is for Trump to win (shudder, throw up a little in my mouth) and to be given the Attorney General’s position. Of course, he’ll have to survive the trial of the GW Bridge conspirators in the fall, and given his run of terrible luck I don’t see that working out well.
Of course, all of these contretemps are coming on the heels of some devastating national and international events: shootings in the US, an attempted coup in Turkey, another terrorist attack in France, and the British vote to leave Europe. Trump’s answers for these problems show an utter lack of understanding on how a statesperson should act. He’s simultaneously proposed that America pull back its commitment to international agreements but to declare war on the Islamic State. He wants to torture suspected terrorists, close the borders to Muslims and watch American Muslims more closely. Add Pence to the mix and you get more limits on women’s health choices, opposition to marriage equality, and religious loopholes to allow discrimination against anyone who looks and feels different than the Biblical definition of a person. This is not a recipe for putting together a majority coalition that will win in November.
The GOP can talk all it wants about unity and vision, but exactly the opposite is going to happen in Cleveland and beyond.