Henderson: For once in his life Trump is playing it safe
TAMPA – There have been three times in my life when I actually cared about the vice president of the United States.
The first was on an awful November day in 1963, when Lyndon Johnson was sworn in after President John Kennedy was assassinated. A decade later, the nation focused on Gerald Ford after Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace.
And after Ronald Reagan was shot – his condition, the world found out later, much more serious than initially reported – the name of vice president George Bush became much more prominent in the nation’s thoughts.
In other words, we really don’t need a vice president until we need him or her. It’s an insurance policy in case of national calamity, so today we the nation prepares to vet Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s choice as a running mate.
Pence is reliably conservative in a red Midwestern state. He was a six-term Congressman and served on the Foreign Affairs Committee. That will appeal to the military. He signed a large tax cut bill as governor and, perhaps importantly, could help Trump mend fences with the Koch Brothers. Pence is well-liked by them.
He also signed Indiana’s controversial “religious freedom” law that critics maintained, loudly, legalized discrimination against the LGBT community.
Under enormous pressure from pro sports teams and the NCAA, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, Pence later signed a modified version of the bill. It seemed to satisfy some of his critics, if not all of his supporters.
But that’s all policy.
The main thing a vice president has to do is handle real pressure. I know that seems obvious, but the pressure on a person thrust into the top role without warning is something most of us can’t imagine.
Generals are waiting in the situation room for your orders.
The press secretary is arranging your address to reassure the nation that all is well.
Eyes throughout the world are watching every move, every nuance. Luci Baines Johnson, the daughter of the former president, in an interview on CBS, recalled the angst over moving the family into the White House following the assassination.
“One night I heard my mother and father actually have raised voices. That was just not in their temperament,” she told the network. “My mother was saying, ‘No, Lyndon, we can’t. We just can’t.’ And my father was saying empathetically but firmly, ‘Bird, we have to… We have to move on Dec. 7 because that’s the date that’s convenient to Mrs. Kennedy and to the Secret Service.”
Only later did Lyndon Johnson admit that he hadn’t grasped the symbolism of moving on Dec. 7. For him, Nov. 22 had become the day fixed in his mind about national tragedy.
Gerald Ford seemed like the right tonic for America following the prolonged and explosive Watergate scandal, which brought down Richard Nixon and thrust Ford into the Oval Office. Ford was genial, a nice contrast to Nixon. He was soothing for a wounded nation.
But his popularity nosedived when not long after he took power, he pardoned Nixon. The nation never forgave him, even though his motive – saving the nation from prolonging the Watergate nightmare – was pure.
As a nation, we elect a president.
The vice president is essentially thrust upon us (see Palin, Sarah). I think it fair to say most voters don’t really consider the other half of the ticket when they cast their ballot. I actually had to think for a few moments before remembering that Paul Ryan was Mitt Romney’s choice as a running mate in 2012.
The vast majority of vice presidents were destined for obscurity even though they occupied the second highest office in the land (in theory, anyway).
We don’t need them until we need them.
We hope we never do, but history shows there is a good chance we might.