18 July 2016

Mike Pence joins the Trump Show


Last night, Donald Trump and Governor Mike Pence gave their first interview together ahead of the Republican National Convention this week in Cleveland, Ohio. The GOP’s soon-to-be nominees for President and Vice President appeared on CBS’ 60 Minutes, with viewers given the chance to see the pair interacting for the first time. And it was extremely revealing.

It is often said that chemistry is key to a winning presidential ticket, and for two men that have only known each other a short while, last night was an important first test. Grilled by CBS veteran Lesley Stahl, who touched on potential fault lines in the relationship, Trump and Pence managed to show something of a united front. Despite their significant differences – Indiana Governor Pence is a staunch, religious conservative and ‘establishment’ Republican who backed Ted Cruz – none of the cracks were allowed to widen.

There would be no disagreements with Trump in control. While Pence may have joined the campaign, it is very much still the Trump show.

In a typical display of bravado, the New Yorker dominated the interview. When Trump’s VP candidate suggested he wouldn’t shy away from disagreements in the Oval Office, Stahl asked whether he felt Trump went too far with his offensive John McCain comments. Pence stuttered at first, before Trump reassured him: “you could say yes, that’s okay”.

When questioned about Trump’s inflammatory campaigning, the governor characteristically stuck to his lines, repeating that Trump’s candidacy had been about “the issues the American people care about”. Stahl dug deeper, pointing to Pence’s previous criticisms of negative campaigning. Spotting his colleague on the ropes, Trump took over the conversation, explaining it away as a difference in personality.

Even more revealingly, in the unaired clips released by CBS was another direct question to Pence: “what kind of vice president are you going to be?” Pence could hardly open his mouth before Trump gave the first answer, saying “I would like somebody who is active”.

Those unaired clips also further confirmed the role which Trump has in mind for his right-hand man. He was gleeful about the House Speaker’s support for the Pence decision, boasting that “Paul Ryan called me up immediately and said: ‘What a great choice’”. This is a move to unite the party and, if he wins the presidency, to have an experienced partner on Capitol Hill. Trump is quite candid about it.

In Governor Mike Pence, Trump has a man who is in many ways the antithesis of himself: he is experienced within Washington, well-liked within the party establishment, popular with evangelical Christians and intensely socially conservative on many issues. Pence will also be happy to swallow his pride, glossing over their intense past disagreements, like his tweet denouncing Trump’s Muslim ban: a policy he now accepts.

Given Trump’s unpopularity among key demographic groups, namely women and ethnic minorities, the divisive candidate’s VP pick has done little to plug the gaps in his appeal to voters. Pence’s name on the ticket is, above all, aimed at achieving stability behind the scenes. Their first TV appearance together made one thing abundantly clear: Trump’s campaign will always be about Trump, and no one else.

Jack Graham is a political commentator who specialises in American politics.