Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Donald and Mike, strange bedfellows

Posted By on Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 4:04 PM

click to enlarge trump-pence.jpg
The burgeoning bromance between the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence makes a weird kind of sense.

These guys need each other.

The mating dance between Trump and Pence over whether the Indiana governor will assume the position of being The Donald’s vice presidential candidate has befuddled many. What could a Hoosier Bible-thumper and a thrice-married plutocrat who has publicly rhapsodized over his own daughter’s sex appeal possibly have in common?

Well, as the cliché goes, politics makes for strange bedfellows – and necessity often serves to help the bedfellows consummate the union.

Pence is locked in the electoral fight of his life. If Democrat John Gregg defeats him in this fall’s gubernatorial election, Pence’s political career will be over. Losing the governor’s seat in a reliably red state only four years after Pence’s predecessor as governor, fellow Republican Mitch Daniels, made the Indiana GOP a national model of innovation and efficiency is something other Republicans will find hard to forgive or forget.

The way he’s campaigning indicates how panicked Pence and his people are that he might take that hard fall. Pence once famously vowed that he was done with negative campaigning, but now he and his team are accusing Gregg of everything but assassinating Abraham Lincoln.

It’s a strategy that smacks of desperation.

Making a challenger’s record the issue in a campaign rarely works. A re-election campaign almost always is a referendum on the incumbent’s performance.

That’s what scares the Pence team.

RELATED: Ten times Pence didn’t make Indiana great again

The governor’s first term has been punctuated by a series of blunders – the state-run news agency, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the ill-thought-out new abortion law – that have transformed the public image of the governor. He came into office perceived as a compassionate conservative with an easy smile. Now, much of the Hoosier public sees him, somewhat unfairly, as a mean-spirited scold who never passes up an opportunity to split the state in half over one of his pet social issues.

Pairing up with Trump gives Pence a lifeline.

If Pence becomes Trump’s running mate, he escapes a tough and high-risk re-election campaign. If Trump defies the odds and wins the presidential election, Pence serves as vice president for four or eight years and then has a shot at the presidency himself.

And, even if Trump loses, Pence likely will emerge as a winner. Vice presidential candidates rarely absorb blame for defeats and usually become top candidates for the presidential nomination the next time around.

Either way, Mike Pence gets a new lease on life.

But what would Donald Trump get out of this union?

Much of the speculation has focused on the fact that Pence would help Trump with social conservatives, many of whom have been lukewarm at best to The Donald’s candidacy, or that Pence’s credentials as a former congressman and current governor would help pad the ticket’s resume. Both are valid points, but perhaps not the essential one.

Pence is a political bride who might bring a dowry to the alter.

At one time, Pence was the favored presidential candidate of Charles Koch – the senior and perhaps dominant half of the immensely wealthy Koch brothers who have funded much of the modern conservative movement. When he still was contemplating a presidential run of his own, Pence had seeded the Koch brothers’ organization with former staffers.

Trump has backed away from his earlier pledges to self-fund his campaign – and even sought ways to be reimbursed for his campaign expenses. His fellow Republicans have charged that the reason he won’t release his tax returns is that those returns will show he doesn’t have anywhere near the $10 billion net worth he claims. There is some well-documented reporting that suggests Trump may not even be a billionaire.

Trump also has shown little aptitude for or interest in fundraising, which is why Hillary Clinton’s campaign is outpacing in that arena by such a wide margin.

The Kochs and others in their vast network sat on their wallets during Trump’s ascendancy. Trump could see Pence as the key to the Koch cash register.

That’s why Donald Trump and Mike Pence are flirting right now. They both have needs the other can fill.

That’s often the way it is with marriages of convenience.

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About The Author

John Krull

John Krull

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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