Why does Mike Pence keep getting himself into such deplorable situations?
Donald Trump’s vice-presidential nominee went on CNN Monday evening, trying to make hay from Hillary Clinton’s calling half of Trump’s backers racists and other “deplorables.” But it backfired when Pence declined to label former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke “deplorable,” saying, “I’m not in the name-calling business.”
Duke expressed satisfaction with Pence’s appearance. Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, in an exquisite Freudian slip, said Tuesday morning on CNN that Pence should call Duke deplorable, “so that he doesn’t get headlines saying, ‘Mike Pence will not say Donald Trump (sic) is deplorable.’”
Later Tuesday, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) issued a statement urging Republicans to call Duke the D-word.
But Pence, appearing with House GOP leaders at Republican National Committee headquarters, said he had no wish to amend his description of Duke.
Pence allowed the white nationalist is a “bad man” whose support “we do not want.” But, he repeated, “I’m not in the name-calling business,” he said, because “civility is essential” and “I’m also not going to validate the language that Hillary Clinton used.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and the other leaders nodded as Pence said these words. Perhaps they understand why a white supremacist is deserving of “civility” when Trump has dispensed with such niceties for everybody else – and why it’s name-calling to identify Duke as “deplorable” but not to call him a “bad man.”
Such awkward positions have become routine for Pence since joining Trump on the ticket. I’ve always thought him an honorable, amiable man, and I accept his friends’ assessment that he took the job in hopes of changing Trump. Instead, it seems Trump has changed him.
Pence, once a hawkish conservative, joined Trump last week in praise of Vladimir Putin, calling him “a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country.” (Maybe because Putin is a dictator?)
Pence last month joined Trump in spreading conspiracy theories, declaring on talk radio that “we’ve got to get to the bottom” of whether an Iranian scientist was killed due to“the revelations in Hillary Clinton’s email.” The executed scientist, Shahram Amiri, outed himself.
That same month, Pence, who once called Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the country “offensive and unconstitutional,” said he was “very supportive” of suspending immigration from countries with terrorist influences.
The vice-presidential nominee has picked his battles with Trump, declining to join Trump in asking Russia to hack Clinton’s email, for example.
In this, he is like Ryan, who has condemned Trump for “textbook” racism, for an “anti-Semitic” and “ridiculous” tweet, and for his praise of Putin.
But as polls show Trump cutting Clinton’s lead, Ryan swallowed any misgivings Tuesday and embraced the ticket almost as enthusiastically as Pence had.
Indeed, Pence and the House leaders made it plain at their joint session Tuesday they were wholly embracing Trump.
Reporters crowded into an RNC lobby that displays memorabilia of party greats and not-so-greats and listened to GOP leaders recite Trump’s slogan.
Pence accepted his colleagues’ accolades and thanked House Republicans for “rallying to the cause to make America great again.”
A reporter asked Pence about Ryan’s earlier criticism of Trump. Pence dismissed occasional “differences of opinion,” saying “our goals are identical.”
That’s increasingly true – because Pence and other Republicans have embraced Trump’s goals.