Why Pence May Make Sense As a Trump Running Mate

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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence Holds Press Conference
The Hoosier governor won't attract swing voters, but could help consolidate conservative support for Trump.Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein

You never quite know what a dude like Donald Trump will do next. But the inside scoop (per NBC News) is that the GOP veepstakes are likely down to three options: Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Pence.

The pros and cons of Christie and Gingrich have been thoroughly masticated by the chattering classes. Pence is a bit of a late entry. But even more than the other two gents, choosing him would represent a strategic decision by Team Trump of considerable importance.

In terms of broadening the GOP’s appeal into unconventional territory, Pence would probably do absolutely nothing for Trump. He was a conservative factional leader in the House before returning to Indiana to run for governor. As governor, he is by most measures compared unfavorably to his Republican predecessor Mitch Daniels. And his main claim to fame (or infamy) was his clumsy handling last year of a national backlash against a “religious liberty” bill he signed. Indeed, that brouhaha made him such damaged goods at home that, according to CNN, Indiana Republicans privately hope Trump will take Pence off their hands (he must fish or cut bait on running for another term as governor by July 15; Indiana is not a state that allows simultaneous presidential and down-ballot candidacies).

But, as CNN also reports, Pence could make sense as a veep choice if Trump wants to use that very important chit primarily to consolidate restive conservatives behind his candidacy.

The Hoosier’s circle of close advisers includes people from Ted Cruz’s world (Kellyanne Conway), the Koch brothers network (Marc Short), and Establishment Republican fundraising circles (Matt Morgan and Nick Ayres). The Club for Growth likes him a lot, and he’s a longtime favorite of the Christian right, where he’s viewed as something of a martyr for taking so many hits for the right to discriminate against LGBT folk.

So going with Pence would indicate Team Trump has decided consolidating GOP support is its top priority. Otherwise, it makes little sense at all, other than as a reflection of Trump’s relatively limited options among Republican pols. If the alternatives really are down to two unpopular figures like Gingrich and Christie with more baggage than a traveling circus, Pence doesn’t look all that bad.