Being the running mate for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has given Pence work similar to that of the guy who trails behind the elephants in the circus with a shovel in his hand, ready to scoop up whatever hits the dirt.
Pence’s most recent example of spade work came after Trump made a hurried visit south of the border to meet with Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto.
After the meeting, Trump said his controversial plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and have Mexico pay for its construction never came up in the conversation.
Peña Nieto disagreed, tweeting in Spanish:
“I repeat what I told him in person: Mr. Trump, Mexico will never pay for the wall.”
Then Trump ratcheted up tensions still more by delivering a speech on immigration in Arizona in which he promised mass deportations of Mexican immigrants and encouraged the crowd to view our neighbors to the south as the enemy. The speech was so incendiary it prompted the bulk of Trump’s few Latino supporters and advisers to resign from his campaign in protest.
In the aftermath, Pence did his amiable best to try to spray air freshener on the fertilizer.
He told CNN it really didn’t matter whether the issue of the wall and who will pay for it came up in the meeting because everyone knew going into the sit-down where the two sides stood on the question. Pence added, with a diplomat’s tact, that any substantive discussions about a possible wall – and who pays for it – would occur as the relationship develops.
Pence’s response obscured the reality that there are only three ways to view the differing accounts of the Trump-Peña Nieto meeting:
1) Trump is lying;
2) Peña Nieto is lying; or
3) Trump just wasn’t paying attention while Peña Nieto talked.
Of the three possibilities, the third – Trump tuned out when Peña Nieto told him something he didn’t want to hear – is the most plausible. During his improbable rise to the Republican presidential nomination, The Donald has demonstrated some remarkable gifts, such as resilience and a matchless talent to manipulate news cycles and public attention.
But an ability to listen to and process information that contradicts one of his prejudices is not among Trump’s gifts.
In The Donald/real-life relationship, Trump expects reality to adapt itself to his needs, not the other way around.
Some people likely will criticize Pence for the shovel work he’s doing to clean up the trail Trump leaves behind, but I’m not among them.
He signed on to be Trump’s running mate and such unseemly tasks often are part of a vice-presidential candidate’s job description. Doing his job and being loyal to the person who hired him shouldn’t be denigrated.
More to the point, Pence doubtless is aware of the strains and stresses Trump’s rise has created within a fraying Republican Party. As Trump’s foray into Mexico demonstrates, personal diplomacy is not in The Donald’s skill set.
So it’s left to Pence to soothe hurt feelings and reassure trembling GOP stalwarts that everything will be all right after Nov. 8.
There is, to be sure, some self-interest involved in Pence’s efforts. Helping Trump and helping the Republican Party won’t hurt Pence’s career, regardless of the outcome in November.
But saying a politician has ambitions is a bit like saying fish like to swim, birds want to fly and humans need air to breathe.
It’s in the nature of the beast.
The fact that Pence is meeting his responsibilities with a yeoman’s dedication doesn’t disguise that it is hard work – and that Pence’s boss isn’t doing much to make the job any easier. Cleaning up after an elephant is difficult enough, but doing it when the pachyderm is determined to zig, zag and bolt without warning makes the task even tougher.
We’re still two months away from Election Day.
That’s a long way for the elephant to travel before the circus leaves town – and a lot of road for Mike Pence to have to trot along, shovel in hand.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has one of the toughest, nastiest jobs in politics.