Look who’s coming to the defense of a notorious sexual predator. It’s Mike the Pious himself, the man who says, “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican... in that order.” And he wants to be the next president.
Mike Pence’s chances of becoming president are between you-gotta-be-kidding and bupkiss, but that won’t stop the former vice president from spending millions before admitting it. Don’t worry, it won’t be his money; it’ll be every politician’s favorite currency: Other people’s money (OPM).
Sure, there are many politicians who are so rich that a few million here and there is chump change – Darryl Issa, Mitt Romney, Rick Scott, Mark Warner, Mike Braun, Don Beyer, Ron Johnson and, of course, Donald Trump, just to name a bipartisan few – but even they still prefer OPM.
They solicit other rich folks, but small donors are a top target. They’ll tell you that small-dollar contributions show a commitment that will pay off at the voting booth. But beware of attempts to lure you in with appeals for a $1 (NIS 3.71) or $3 (NIS 11.13); that’s just a guaranteed ticket to a never-ending flow of emails, calls and appeals for more.
In this day of billion-dollar campaigns, meaningful campaign reform is more necessary and more remote than Trump telling the truth. Consultants, media companies, advertising, and attention-getting rallies are expensive, and politicians of every persuasion are addicted.
Pence is already raising money even though he says he’s undecided about running and won’t have a decision before the end of June. The suspense is something less than palpable. He has his own SuperPAC and he’s working the phones with deep-pocket people while aides work social media to raise more.
He’s not alone. He may be encouraged by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s botched campaign launch and low poll numbers, but they’re not as low as Pence’s. Several polls of Republican voters over the past week show Trump at around 53%-56%, DeSantis at 20%-26%, and Pence and others in low single digits.
Pence can't appropriate Trump's voter base
Every politician prays – Pence’s specialty – that lightning will strike, propelling them to the top, but most of the polls, pundits, prognosticators, and professional polls say Pence is out of the running. One big reason is that Trump’s base is very large, essential to anyone seeking the nomination, and remains loyal to the twice-impeached, once-indicted (so far) disgraced former president, and many would rather lynch Pence than vote for him. They made that clear on January 6 and there’s scant evidence of change.
In the eyes of Trump diehards, Pence disqualified himself when he made the historic decision to uphold the Constitution in the face of intense pressure from the power-hungry megalomaniac who wanted to terminate it.
The conservative Washington Examiner called Pence a “candidate without a constituency.”
He covets Trump’s followers so much that he wouldn’t offend them or their leader by condemning him when a jury unanimously found he sexually abused, battered, and defamed a woman who he mistakenly identified under oath as one of his former wives. Pence did, however, condemn Trump’s behavior on January 6, saying, “His reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day.”
Let’s see if he will speak so bluntly when he is campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where he is spending a lot of time these days.
Tom LoBianco, a reporter who covered Pence’s career for two decades in Indiana and Washington, called him the ultimate political shapeshifter. In his book Piety & Power, he said Pence is a political opportunist with a tendency to take credit for other people’s work and for whom “It’s all about winning.”
Trump picked him for the ticket in 2016 because the reality television star had the televangelists but needed the political evangelical voters, particularly in the Rust Belt, Pence’s home turf. Pence was sycophantic and obsequious to the point of being a favorite target for late-night comedians, but never a close adviser or confidant for Trump.
One biographer wrote that Pence accepted the vice presidency because he thought Trump would lose and that would make him the front-runner for the 2020 nomination.
Political scientist Larry Sabato noted that he will be the first vice president since 1940 to run against the president he previously served. The last was John Nance Garner, who famously said the number two job wasn’t worth a bucket of warm “spit,” or a word to that effect. Only three vice presidents have successfully run for the presidency on their own in the past century – Richard Nixon, George H W. Bush and Joe Biden.
Trump no longer needs his old running mate to win the evangelical vote; he has it tied down. Pence has more conservative bona fides and is really one of them, but that isn’t really relevant.
Support for Israel does not equal support for the Jewish people
Pence is more strident than the former president on issues like abortion (he wants a national ban), LGBTQ+ issues, education, Social Security and Medicare. He calls himself a “Reagan Conservative” who supports Ukraine in its war with Russia, wants more free trade, is a national security hawk and is a fiscal conservative.
Pence shares Trump’s zeal for Israel, at least for the far-right, but neither man is able to comprehend that love for Israel does not necessarily translate to respect for Jews. And could be quite the opposite.
He made his first trip to Israel as Vice President in 2018 and was a big hit. Israeli columnist Chemi Shalev of the left-leaning Haaretz said Pence’s gave “one of the most unabashedly Zionist speeches – perhaps sermon is the better word – ever heard in the Knesset.”
Later that year, he held a rally in Michigan shortly after the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 dead in the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history. (The shooter’s trial began this week.)
To offer words of comfort to a grieving Jewish community, Pence invited a Jews for Jesus messianic rabbi named Loren Jacobs, who he falsely called “a leader in the Jewish community.” Jacobs gave a prayer for the victims and concluded, “In the name of Jesus, amen.” Former Navy Jewish chaplain Harry Pell called it utterly offensive.
It was one more massacre with an AR-15 and Pence’s response was not to call for a ban on assault rifles, stronger gun safety laws or background checks. He remains snugly in the pocket of the gun lobby. Instead, he insulted the victims, their families, their community and Jews everywhere with a prayer by a Christian preacher masquerading as a Jew.
That’s one more reason – along with his staunch support for a full range of domestic issues antithetical to most Jews – why, should lightning strike and Pence become his party’s nominee, he will neither get nor deserve Jewish votes beyond a small core of conservative Republicans and Orthodox Jews.
The writer is a Washington-based journalist, consultant and lobbyist, and a former American Israel Public Affairs Committee legislative director.