Don’t get fooled by Mike Pence

When party satraps chose vice presidential nominees, the head of the ticket ignored his running mate — why trust a stranger? “Hack” is too strong a word, for if we dismiss most of the vice presidents in our history as hacks then what else would you call James Monroe, Benjamin Harrison, and George H.W. Bush? Before the mid twentieth century only Martin Van Buren worked as his president’s most trusted counselor and official successor. The exceptions, those consulted on policy matters, don’t even get a mention: Garret Hobart, Calvin Coolidge (who actually sat in Cabinet meetings), perhaps crusty old John Adams himself. The Cold War and the cluelessness with which Harry Truman ascended to the presidency have strengthened the political positions of modern vice presidents, but as late as 1963 LBJ was complaining about what little there was to do; hell, vice presidents didn’t even get their own White House offices until Walter Mondale in 1977. Some presidents expect vice presidents to be coarse irritants: look at the career of Governor Spiro Agnew, Nixon’s running mate after insulting civil rights workers in Maryland and who after the election was the dummy for William Safire’s logorrhea.

In an office occupied by eminences like George Dallas, Charles Fairbanks, and Charles Dawes (who, portending his future, at least wrote “It’s All in the Game,”), it makes sense for Mike Pence to affect a demeanor somewhere between the greeter in a funeral parlor and gizzards left in the sun. A mediocre and dangerous governor of Indiana whom legislature was already treating with contempt before James Comey got frisky about Clinton indictment double talk, Pence repeats himself so much because he doesn’t know very many words; he knows words cohere into sentences, but sentences are troublesome. More troublesome is believing he’s innocent or a dupe. Josh Marshall:

It is fair to say that Pence probably wasn’t the active manager of the Transition process. But it’s probably fair to say that nothing would be more important to the transition process than learning that the President’s top foreign policy advisor was being investigated for being in the pay of a foreign power. Like, almost literally nothing. If he never learned about something that serious, he either made sure not to hear or had information kept from him by others. A similar pattern emerges with Flynn’s assurances about his calls with Russian Ambassador Kislyak: Pence’s public statements turn out to be false and it’s excused with the claim that he was left in the dark. There are many other examples.

The only way this seems plausible to me is if Pence were somehow so clean, so far from the center of the action, that the Trump crew knew not to tell Pence these things. That clearly seems to be the story Pence’s aides are trying to tell – possibly to insulate him from Trump’s ubiquitous corruption and lying and allow a smooth transition to a Pence presidency.

In early 1987, the American electorate was forced to choose between believing in Ronald Reagan’s culpability or in Ronald Reagan’s stupidity while tabling the question about the president being both culpable and stupid. With Mike Pence we’ve reached that point.

Unlike many liberal buddies, I don’t fear him. Should he become president, he will sign the horrors that Paul Ryan and Mike Lee and Mitch McConnell bring before his desk. This assumes, however, that his fractious party would be in any condition to pass legislation in 2018 or 2019. Without Trump at his side, Pence is a credulous non-entity, of no use to the rest of the country. He probably bores his wife. His deepest reading before becoming vice president was laundry bills — excellent preparation for the vice presidency.

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