Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is the friend of all and enemy to none in the conservative movement and the broader GOP. He is smart, experienced and — crucial in this cycle — affable and amiable, the two descriptors least used in 2016 and most needed in the country right now.
Pence served a dozen years in Congress, and I got to know him on the radio and then at a House GOP retreat he organized in Baltimore as 2010 opened, a retreat at which Pence dueled a bit with President Obama. The Indiana governor spent a lot of years as a gifted radio talk show host before entering the House, so he knows my world, and he’s almost a Buckeye — his congressional district ran along his state’s border with God’s country — and every bit the Midwesterner of standard American issue.
You have to work hard not to like Mike Pence. Which is why while in Congress his conservative colleagues made him the chair of the Republican Study Group where the Reaganauts have always gathered, and then the entire Republican caucus — middle, center-right and movement conservatives all — elected him to chair their conference. These jobs do not go either to the ideologically ambiguous in the case of the former or to off-putting self-promoters in the case of the latter. They go to work horses who understand both principles and collegiality. That’s Mike Pence.
And that makes him a perfect fit for both a party in desperate need of bandages and balm, and a decidedly unconventional nominee who, if he indeed rides the wild currents of a turbulent year in a deeply divided country to the White House, will need a partner in the West Wing who can work the Washington corners and conference rooms even as Joe Biden has done for President Obama when he has been allowed to do so do by the least amicable and welcoming president of my lifetime.
Washington, to which I have returned after a quarter century in California, is a city that runs on schmooze. Not the corrupt kind, though there is a lot of that, but the “Hey, how are you doin’ (and what the hell is your name)?” kind of schmooze. It is the great crossroads of the favor-doers and takers, a vast bazaar of backslapping in which the most serious decisions in the world are made.
The schmoozing can and often has veered into the dark “House of Cards” variety over the decades, and Clinton Inc. is one vast monument to that shady, shadowy world. Donald Trump is promising to clean those Augean Stables. The big real estate developers know this world of influence and handshakes, and Trump could well pull that cleansing off, smashing all the china and gutting all the interiors in a spectacle a large slice of the country yearns for because of reasons best articulated by the always-on-target Peggy Noonan, when she wrote about the great divide between the connected few and the vast majority of outsiders a few months back.
But if Trump triumphs and begins the great shattering of the D.C. Guild, he will need Pence to help make work the Constitution’s original design, for a President Trump cannot and does not purport to want to change that design. That means a proper, constitutional relationship with the lawmakers up the street. And that’s where Gov. Pence will prove his worth as Vice President Pence even more than as the desperately needed balance on the ticket.
Donald Trump deserves enormous credit for making this “governing choice” even as people like me thought he needed to make a campaigning choice with Chris Christie or Newt Gingrich. The Pence selection telegraphs to that part of the conservative movement which is not reconciled to Trump that it should saddle up and ride alongside now.
The alternative, especially in a world rocked by the withdrawal of American leadership and with a Supreme Court in the balance, is simply unimaginable. Hillary Clinton will purport to take an oath which no one can be expected to believe after her record for falsehoods laid out in detail by FBI Director Comey and will move with far greater skill to extend President JV’s disdain for the Constitution to levels the consequences of which will be simple lawlessness combined with greed and special interest frenzy. Trump-Pence is a mixture of ingredients we have never seen before, but both are pledged to work with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in returning the country to its rails.
The Pence selection was not what most expected from Donald Trump, but as with the list of potential Supreme Court nominees, it portends many very good things about a Trump presidency, and the holdouts among the conservatives and within the “undecideds” in between the two camps of the country’s ideological opposites in these strange and alarming times should find in Mike Pence a great and good reason to agree to give Trump a try.
This column was originally posted on WashingtonExaminer.com.