Pence Unveils Less Unhinged, Equally Dangerous GOP Agenda

Mike Pence trying to sound fiery. Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Florida senator Rick Scott got some mostly negative attention recently for putting out an “11 Point Plan to Rescue America,” a package of policy proposals wrapped in extremist MAGA language and Bible allusions that he offered as campaign fodder for Republican 2022 midterms candidates who wanted to prove they had an agenda to advance if they won control of Congress. A lot of it was conservative boilerplate with owning-the-libs rhetoric, but Mitch McConnell was more than a little displeased by a couple of howlers in the mix.

“If we’re fortunate enough to have the majority next year, I’ll be the majority leader. I’ll decide in consultation with my members what to put on the floor,” McConnell said. “Let me tell you what will not be on our agenda. We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years. That will not be part of the Republican Senate majority agenda.”

Now there is another “agenda” (a “Freedom Agenda,” as a matter of fact) being put forth by former vice-president and putative Republican presidential candidate Mike Pence. Like Scott’s agenda, Pence’s includes plenty of MAGA posturing and Bible-thumping. What it lacks are obviously unhinged proposals that would doom the campaign of any GOP candidate who embraced them. And some of the Pence plan’s more dangerous ideas are presented in such a bland manner that they’ll probably fly under the radar.

Like Scott’s agenda, Pence’s features some glaring contradictions. He opposes putting any public-policy constraints on American capitalism’s great job-creating firms (particularly fossil-fuel companies) but also calls for government intervention to prevent companies from implementing “woke” personnel practices. Pence denounces “radical political indoctrination” by public schools and offers prescriptions for conservative political indoctrination by public schools. More generally, the “freedom” the Pence agenda celebrates in nearly every paragraph is not extended to those who might, say, want the freedom to control their reproductive system or to breathe clean air.

Yet within the constraints of what hard-core conservatives believe, Pence’s agenda is relatively understated. Scott’s, for example, agitates the air at great length about Democrats’ nefarious plans to promote so-called voting rights:

Today’s Democrat Party is trying to rig elections and pack the courts because they have given up on Democracy. They don’t believe they can win based on their ideas, so they want to game the system and legalize voter fraud to stay in power. In true Orwellian fashion, Democrats refer to their election rigging plans as “voting rights.” We won’t allow the radical left to destroy our democracy by institutionalizing dishonesty and fraud.

Pence’s Freedom Agenda doesn’t bother with all the agitprop. It simply proposes maximum voter-ID requirements and minimum allowances for early voting by mail or in person. That would be a profoundly reactionary step explainable only by Donald Trump’s bogus claims prior to the 2020 election that anything other than voting in person on Election Day with a fistful of IDs is fraudulent. Yet Pence is getting a lot of credit for asking Republicans to “look ahead” rather than backward toward 2020, in an implicit rebuke to the viewpoint of his onetime idol, the 45th president.

Similarly, Scott begins his immigration section with a sneer (“Nations have borders. We should give that a try”) and criticizes “politicians of both parties” for inaction on the sacred cause of tight border control. He also calls for a completed southern border wall to be named after Trump, an exceedingly cheap play to the MAGA grandstand. Pence promotes an equally radical agenda that rules out any sort of “amnesty” (presumably even for Dreamers) and demands proof of financial independence for anyone applying to immigrate to the U.S. — but without all the fire-breathing.

Even on abortion (a core concern for Pence’s pre-Trump Christian-right constituency), he stops short of calling for an actual ban, while Scott argues that “abortion kills human children. To deny that is to deny science … as a civilized people who accept science, we must protect babies, born and unborn, from all acts of violence.”

So in packaging, if not substance, Scott’s agenda is Maximum MAGA, while Pence’s is MAGA Lite. But they both aim to merge Trumpism with the ancient agenda of the conservative movement.

If you look at Pence’s list of “contributors” to his Freedom Agenda, you see a very full cast of characters from the pre-Trump right. You’ve got ideological warhorses like former Heritage Foundation presidents Ed Feulner and Jim DeMint. You’ve got Christian-right leaders Gary Bauer and Robert Jeffress. There’s the veteran demagogue Newt Gingrich and old-school Republicans who survived into the Trump era: Betsy DeVos, Larry Kudlow, and Kellyanne Conway. There are onetime presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Scott Walker. There’s not a brave Never Trumper in the bunch, despite the widespread belief that Pence — who thwarted Trump’s insurrection attempt in Congress — is a martyr to every decent, non-Trumpian impulse in the GOP.

Pence’s presidential prospects still seem rather dim. (Trump recently dismissed his possible 2024 candidacy, saying, “I don’t think the people would accept it.”) But if Republicans find themselves in need of a candidate who offers the Trumpian ideology without too much “populism,” Pence will be waiting in the wings.

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Pence Unveils Less Unhinged, Equally Dangerous GOP Agenda