Mike Pence isn’t Donald Trump. And that’s exactly why he’s on the 2020 ticket

By

National News

December 4, 2019 - 8:04 AM

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a "homecoming" rally at the BBT Center in Sunrise, Fla., on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/TNS)
WASHINGTON — Mike Pence does not have the star power of President Donald Trump and is not one to draw large crowds on the campaign trail. His political team has crafted a 2020 strategy that both plays to the vice president's strengths and compensates for what doesn't come naturally to Trump: shaking hands in local diners and ice cream parlors.
Pence recently completed a bus tour in Kentucky and has similar ones planned for Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin_three states his campaign strategists believe are critical to reelection and where they see the Republican politician's Midwestern roots as being most useful.
The former Indiana governor will direct his energy to states heavily populated by white, working-class voters that he and Trump must win next November to stay in office.
"The vice president can't get the same audience as the president can on his own," Marc Short, chief of staff to Pence, candidly acknowledged in an interview. "Let the president do the giant rallies, and let the vice president do a lot more of the traveling through the district, getting local press attention leading into the big event with the president."
The strategy is to complement "their styles," he said.
Trump is at his most energetic and in his element when he's facing an arena of people who waited in line for hours to listen to him speak.
Pence is at his best when he's making small talk with patrons of local restaurants, telling them anecdotes, and listening attentively to their comments, people close to him say.
"I think that the president sees and can move great crowds, and I think the vice president sees the individuals in the crowd in a really unique way and remembers them," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, an organization that advocates for anti-abortion policies and candidates.
Pence also has an ability to stay on message, which makes him an asset to the provocative president, said Joel Goldstein, a law professor at Saint Louis University and an expert on the vice presidency.
He pointed to the 2016 vice presidential debate, when Hillary Clinton's running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, laced into Trump and told Pence: "See if you can defend any of it."
"Ever since then, he's demonstrated an ability to defend Trump and sometimes to reframe what Trump has said to make it more palatable," Goldstein said.
Some Republicans have argued that Trump should ditch Pence for a politician who can pull in more suburban women and minority voters who may become key to reelection, depending on who Democrats choose as their presidential nominee. They say someone like Nikki Haley, a former South Carolina governor, should be on the ticket this cycle.
Goldstein said dropping Pence would play into the narrative that Trump is unreliable and cannot be trusted.
"In 2016, Haley didn't want to have anything to do with being Trump's running mate, and Pence got selected, in part, because I think he was the most appealing of a very shallow pool," he said. "But now that has established a status quo. Pence has been loyal. He has been more supportive of Trump in his statements than I think that any vice president has ever been."
___
Trump has mocked the current field of Democrats for holding sparsely attended events like the ones his vice president's strategy is hinged on.
Dannenfelser, who signed a letter in 2016 warning Iowa voters not to trust Trump, said most politicians competing at the national level do not have the qualities that make former President Barack Obama, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Trump compelling speakers.
"Everybody wants to bottle up that quality and sell it. But there's no selling it. You can't bottle it up. You run with the talents God gave you, and you see if that's what the American people want or not," she said. "They have definitely embraced Mike Pence in the role that he is in now."
She admitted Pence can come off as a little flat sometimes, compared to the president, but said the vice president is the type of person who would be a good dinner guest.
"I think that if it seems like there is a little less caffeine in him sometimes, it's because he really cares to get it right, and he really wants to be the reliable next door neighbor, more than he wants to be the guy who's the local car dealer," Dannenfelser said.
Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, told McClatchy that Pence is good at retail politics. "Some people like dull," she said.
Dingell said Pence has been to her district twice this year. On one of those occasions, he visited Ford Motor Company's Dearborn Truck Plant. She said she heard from plant workers after the visit.
"I walked the picket line with UAW workers who are still going to vote for Trump," she said.
While campaigning last week in Florida, Pence made a surprise stop at Jaxson's Ice Cream Parlor and Restaurant in Dania Beach. He went booth to booth shaking hands and taking photos with customers before buying a chocolate milkshake.
The vice president's team says this is an example of the type of campaigning Pence is doing and Trump isn't.
"The president has a certain huge footprint that it's better for the vice president to complement in ways by doing the retail events," Short said.
Evangelicals will continue to be a core audience, Short said. In Sunrise, Fla., last week the vice president met with Hispanic faith leaders backstage prior to his public appearance at a Trump 2020 rally.
"We talked about what we wanted to accomplish, and they prayed for the vice president, and I think there's a certain connection there," the top aide to the vice president said.
Pence similarly helps bring conservatives who remain skeptical of Trump into the fold.
Club for Growth President David McIntosh said conservatives "came around" to Trump because he put Pence on the ticket three years ago. He described Pence as a mediator in the 2016 campaign. When there "was a dust-up, Mike would explain and calm everything down," McIntosh said.
The nonprofit organization that promotes fiscal conservatism did not endorse Trump in 2016, yet it is running anti-impeachment ads now in swing congressional districts. McIntosh credited Pence with bringing the two camps together.
"I think that keeping Mike as his vice president is the way that Trump signals to everybody, I'm not going to leave you (conservatives) in the second term," McIntosh, a former congressman who Pence succeeded in office, said.
David Urban, a senior aide to Trump's 2016 campaign and an informal adviser to his reelection bid, dismissed chatter about the president kicking Pence off the ticket.
"The notion that somehow the president is going to swap out his running mate ... I think that's kind of dead on arrival," he said.
Michael Steel, a partner at the public affairs firm Hamilton Place Strategies, said that dropping Pence would not help Trump.
"Loyalty matters. The vice president brings an important element to the Trump-Pence ticket. It would be a real mistake to make any changes heading into what is sure to be a tough reelection," he said.
The loyalty to Trump could pay off for Pence in four years, when operatives like McIntosh, who are close to the vice president, anticipate he'll be a contender for the party's nomination.
"My hope is that the pendulum theory is correct, because then after Trump, they're going to want the calm, steady Midwesterner or somebody like him," McIntosh said of Pence.
If Pence runs in 2024, he could be competing with other Trump administration officials such as Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Short declined to comment on Pence's political prospects, telling McClatchy: "I think that the vice president's entirely focused on 2020. I'll leave it at that."
Related
July 1, 2020
May 14, 2020
April 8, 2020
March 4, 2020