Pence Preparing For 2020 Run
Last Tuesday night during the One And Only Vice Presidential Debate®, Republicans caught a wistful glimpse of what might have been. Mike Pence, the amiable, white-haired governor of Indiana, presented himself the picture of the reasonable, thoughtful statesman: measured, patient, affable, immune to ruffling.
A small-town Midwesterner who came of age on the cusp of the Reagan era, he even got to dismiss one of rival Tim Kaine’s jibes with the Gipper’s signature — some say election-winning — zinger: “There you go again.”
It was the first time in months, possibly since Marco Rubio folded his premature White House bid in March, an audience for this entirely bizarre presidential campaign had heard from an actual conservative presenting conservative prescriptions in an authentic conservative voice.
Alas, compared to previous One And Only Vice Presidential Debate® shows, only a slim sliver of Americans, about one in nine, caught a glimpse of what might have been, and they most likely were political junkies. The small number is a shame, because, by abundant accounts, viewers liked what they saw of Pence, who delivered competently on conservative positions regarding taxes, regulation, national defense and, most compellingly, life.
Republicans slumbered overnight with their heads full of the robust Merlot Pence poured. Alas, they awoke to yet another morning of the DTs. You know, the Donald Trumps.
By every traditional yardstick, Republicans ought to be on the brink of peak ascendancy just now. Five weeks from a change election, tangling with a old-timer from a bygone era who bristles with some of the largest negatives since Frankenstein’s creation rose from the slab, this should be the GOP’s moment.
Eight years of strategic maneuvering, leading to enormous, historic gains in state legislatures, governorships and Congress, ought to be about to pay the GOP the ultimate dividend: A return to the White House with firm control of Capitol Hill.
Instead, Republicans chose for themselves the orange mass of incurious bluster whose first instinct is to offend, and whose backup position is to double down. Consider: Even as Pence was attempting to shift responsibility for “insult-driven” campaigning to Clinton and her “basket of deplorables” remark, his running mate was — at exactly the same moment — tweeting an image of Kaine as the Joker.
Worse, because Trump has so far demonstrated neither depth of knowledge nor willingness to inform himself, once separated from Kellyanne Conway’s thoughtful phrasing on a teleprompter, he has proven incapable of pressing the attack.
The first presidential debate was a marathon of missed chances. The Middle East is on fire; China and Russia are filling the vacuum created by President Obama’s feckless foreign policy, aiding and abetting our reckless isolationism; Obamacare is in full-blown meltdown; the economy is stagnant; and every few days brings fresh revelations about why the FBI didn’t recommend prosecuting HRC over her mishandling of sensitive material: Because it didn’t want to.
But the man easily baited by a tweet is just as easily thrown off whatever game he has by an insult or a sideways glance. That’s why even his most ardent supporters concede there’s enormous pressure on him to demonstrate something new at Sunday’s town hall showdown in St. Louis.
Meanwhile, critics of Pence’s performance quickly pointed out, while he was the clear winner, by not actively defending the top of the ticket, he made Trump the clear loser.
That’s one way to look at it. Just as obvious, however, was that, for all his unnatural interrupting and snark, Kaine just as skillfully avoided defending the dismal, everywhere failing Obama to which Clinton has lashed herself. Because, at this point, what difference does it make?
No, the night belonged to the mild-mannered Hoosier, who emerged from last Tuesday plastered with “Pence 2020” bumperstickers. Rightly so. He showed remarkable skill for slipping punches, staying focused and scoring points, qualities that will be held in higher esteem when Republicans begin assessing their field for their next charge at the White House … on November 9.
But, some say, he answered the “Will you be my V.P. call wrong.” There is some truth to that. The counter-argument, and I think it’s a good one, is when the moment in this looming disaster of a reality show called for GOP first-responders, Pence reported for duty with his ax and his hose.
Having been eager to be first into the burning building, Pence will emerge from its smoldering ruin as the early Republican leader.