By Thornton Blount (7/24/16)
Last week, Donald Trump announced his selection of Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. Despite all of his political unorthodoxy, this was a savvy move by the Donald. In picking a traditional conservative, the Trump campaign hopes to win over traditional Republicans who, until now, have felt unable to rally around this non-traditional ticket. Subsequently, for the first time in 12 months, this week the media gave substantive airtime to someone other than Donald Trump. Perhaps it was simply expert timing in announcing the pick immediately prior to the beginning of the RNC, but Mike Pence dominated both media coverage and on-the-ground conversation/discussion for the entire week. Furthermore, although I haven’t done the laborious work of scanning over the transcripts from the speeches at the convention, having personally watched most of them live I would contend that the word ‘Pence’ was used an equal amount to ‘Trump’ by the speakers (if not more). Even on the streets amongst common people, all I ever heard about was how great Mike Pence was; hardly anything about Trump. Now – I’m not surprised by all of this, because the Republican establishment and base would have preferred any other candidate to be their nominee, but the balance in popularity between the two candidates on this ticket is unprecedented. Vice-Presidents are generally very popular figures on campaigns, always selected to bolster public support for the ticket and co-opt different voter groups into the movement. But on this ticket, even though Pence doesn’t have as commanding of a personality as his new boss, this week it became hard to tell who’s campaign had really just won the nomination, and who it is that’s actually running for president. To be clear, this is not to say that the two men are out of stride in strategy – I think in fact the Trump campaign actually has rather tight reins on Pence and calculated plans for him – but rather that Pence immediately became the more popular principal on the ticket.
Early after the pick, Donald Jr., seemingly now a new spokesman for his father’s campaign, shared with the press that Pence will wield great control over “domestic and foreign policy” in a Trump White House. This left many asking (myself included): if Pence is in charge of ‘domestic and foreign policy,’ what is President Trump himself going to be in charge of? To this question, Don Jr. responded, “he’ll focus on Making America Great Again!” (*eye roll*) But if Donald Trump is planning on handing over all of the executive decision-making to his (more qualified) Vice President, why is he even running for President?
Although Pence is (pretty objectively) a rather uninspiring figure, under the campaign’s expressed plans for the balance of power in a Trump executive branch, he is indeed en route to becoming somewhat of a ‘co-President’ of the United States. I would not be surprised to see a lot of Pence in the coming months, and to also see a transformation in his personality as the campaign grooms and trains him to be a more exciting figure behind whom the electorate can rally.