With the ongoing investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia, calls for his impeachment have renewed (I will give my two-cents on all this Russia business another time). However, many progressives are not sure the ensuing result – an official Mike Pence presidency – is any more desirable, but quite possibly even worse. I count myself among them.
Word out of Washington is that Mike Pence is the true power in the White House . This is not only easy to believe, it was the predictable outcome of electing a president with no prior experience in government to speak of; that he would lean heavily on the people around him with the knowledge and experience he lacks is the only logical endpoint. There were also some rumors that suggested a Trump Administration would function this way. There were whispers that Don Jr. tried to recruit John Kasich for running-mate by offering to make him “the most powerful Vice President in history” . Again, this is merely rumor, but the idea behind it rings true.
I realize that, at present, many folks suspect Steve Bannon is the true force running the White House after his coup through executive-order (which reports indicate Trump signed without any real knowledge of the its directive) . Ask yourself, though: how different could Pence and Bannon’s agendas really be? Pence is a proponent of the Tea Party movement, and Breitbart promoted that movement’s agenda in a big way while Bannon was their chairman.
So why, then, would anyone find impeaching Trump undesirable if it makes no meaningful difference in how the White House will govern? There are a few reasons…
First, Trump is a human wrench in the Republican political-machine, whereas the machine would probably run more smoothly with Mike Pence operating it. There does appear to be some division among Republicans – mainly between its Tea Party faction and the party establishment – but those issues can be smoothed over more effectively by an experienced politician. Pence once served in the US House of Representatives, and therefore both experienced with and knowledgeable about how Congress operates. Trump has no experience in government whatsoever.
Trump still has lots of clout by default (for example, de facto possession of the bully-pulpit) and his impact therein seems more detrimental to the GOP cause than helpful. The failure of the Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare reflects the party’s incompetence at governing, but for good measure, Trump made the party look even worse by publicly lashing out at the Freedom Caucus. He has also been the administration’s own worst enemy on issues like the Muslim travel-ban by publicly indicating that its purpose is indeed intended to discriminate on the basis of religion, allowing the courts to easily disqualify it as unconstitutional. This again ties into Trump has a proverbial wrench in the machine; not only does his rhetoric spur resistance to him, but his ineptitude prevents them from achieving his party’s goals. That is why, if an impeachment trial does take place, I believe it will happen with the Republican party’s blessing.
There is also some hope that Trump – who ran on some progressive, populist positions – recognizes that these positions are actually popular and will feel inclined to keep those promises, if for no other reason than to maintain his popularity with many whom supported him. This is merely a hope, and one he is poised to dash, given cabinet appointments that point in the other direction. Still, Trump did follow-through on one such position by killing the TPP, something that of the Republicans (including Pence) were united in their support of before the rise of Trump; as they are with all manner of free-trade agreements. There are reports that Trump is still not on board with GOP plans to gut Social Security .
Second, Mike Pence himself is a likable guy, and that worries me. I fear that Pence could win over undecided-voters for one election season and quite possibly two (this in addition to however long he is de-facto president under Trump). A new poll shows that Americans have a somewhat positive view of the Vice President: 47% holding favorable views to 35% unfavorable views, putting him at a remarkable +12% rating. Donald Trump’s standing in the same polls leaves to be desired with his -2% rating (45/47%), but both he and the Veep are doing much better than the Democratic party, whom are currently polling 36/52 for a -16% rating .
It’s not hard to see why Pence is viewed positively. He has the impeccable mannerisms and friendly demeanor that Midwesterners are classically known for. This is a refreshing contrast not only to Trump’s overtly aggressive style (hence why those who may not like Trump view the Vice-President favorably), but to the aggressively partisan culture of Washington more generally; cooler-heads give the impression (correctly or not) of being above the fray. Obama had similar appeal in his historic and wildly successful bid for president, rejecting the concept of red-states and blue-states to sell himself as a balanced, judicious change-agent above partisan politics.
But rather than Obama, Mike Pence reminds me a lot of Scott Walker, the Republican governor in my home state of Wisconsin. Walker’s style is very similar to that which I have seen from Pence on the 2016 campaign trail, both striking the listener as sincere and level-headed minds when they speak.
I have watched Walker in debates against Democratic opponents several times during state election seasons, and while the substance of his answers to policy questions are quite off-putting to any Leftist such as myself, his calm and even-keel demeanor makes him hard to otherwise dislike. It makes his arguments seem sincere and credible when they are anything but. As his rivals attempt to rip into him, they come out looking like the bad guys, while Walker comes across as a voice of sanity/reason.
In fact, when preparing for the Vice Presidential debates, Mike Pence’s opponent in practice sessions was none other than Governor Walker himself – and when the debates took place, it showed . As the running-mate to the loose-cannon that is Donald Trump, Mike Pence unsurprisingly tried to depict himself as the even-tempered foil to his brash partner. Tim Kaine’s confrontational strategy played right into his hands. In the aftermath of the debate, most polls indicated that viewers favored Mike Pence’s performance in the debate to Tim Kaine’s – case in point.
With the nice-guy image that Pence has perfected of himself, it’s awful tough for voters to see him for the extremist (I do not throw the word around lightly) he truly is on policy, but it does not take much digging to bring that truth to light. Pence is not merely pro-life, but as Governor of Indiana, he required funerals for aborted fetuses, adding to the trauma of mothers who have chosen to undergo the procedure. Pence does not merely downplay the human contribution to climate-change/global-warming, he calls the very phenomenon a “myth” outright. Pence does not merely believe in cutting government spending, he (as Governor of Indiana) cut spending to public-health programs, leading to an outbreak of HIV in his state (which, ironically, required him to utilize the medicaid programs expanded under Obamacare to solve the problem — which he is now trying to cut). Learning nothing from this incident, Pence recently broke a tie in the Senate to pass a bill defunding Planned Parenthood, which provides HIV testing services. Pence is not merely opposed to homosexuality, he is a proponent of conversion-therapy.
Pence has also shown a troubling pattern of neglecting minority constituents, consistent with the current administration’s charming penchant toward bigotry, though his record does not receive the same attention as the others’ (it’s not as brazen in comparison, but no less insidious). When a lead poisoning crisis broke out in his state, Pence’s attention and aid disproportionately favored white localities to minority-dominated areas. Pence has also refused to pardon a man who was wrongfully convicted of a felony and spent 10 years in prison serving his sentence. In spite of all evidence, pleas of the deputy prosecutor in his case and the parole board, Pence refused to pardon the man. It’s notable that the man in question is African-American. Pence did once pardon a non-white woman whom had admitted guilt on drug charges. His unwillingness to extend the same courtesy to a man who plead not guilty and has since been exonerated is bizarre. Perhaps he’d have preferred the man had been guilty to prove a point -!
Pence has even expressed admiration for former-VP Dick Cheney, going so far as to call him a role model. It’s really quite shocking to make such a statement openly – even, I think, if you are not a Leftist. George W. Bush was an unmitigated disaster as president, so much so that Republicans do not invoke that name any longer (even as they attempt to convince Americans that Obama era policies have been terrible for the country). The Bush brand is so politically toxic that Jeb Bush’s campaign for Republican presidential nominee failed to win a single state in the primary election, this despite massive campaign contributions that poured in after announcing his bid, forcing it to exit not long after the race began – an utter rejection of the Bush brand from the Republican party base of support that once championed it.
The deep unpopularity of Dubya cannot be understated, but Cheney was one of the central forces behind the (second) Bush presidency, and yet Pence seems to see no issue following his example. In truth, the Republicans never stopped supporting the policies that resulted in failure under Bush’s presidency, but rather, they have stopped supporting the former president himself for the political inconvenience he is to them.
All said, it should not be at all difficult to disqualify Pence and everyone else in the administration following a successful impeachment (or Trump resigning under the pressure of one), but the Democrats have shown themselves to be politically inept time and again. This is, after all, the same party that failed to stop Dubya from getting re-elected. It’s also the first party to ever lose an election against a recalled governor (I am, again, referring to Governor Walker).
Lastly, I would also worry about the false sense of security that an impeachment of Trump may give the public, as though it were to mean that crisis has been averted and everything is back to normal. The Republicans’ and the American Right’s agenda more broadly is far from normal. If nothing else, I am glad our current president cannot pass for normal while pushing said agenda.
The only argument for impeaching Trump I find persuasive is that the more cool-headed Mike Pence is not as likely to drive us into nuclear conflict. However, being governed by a President Pence might actually make nuclear annihilation look like an attractive option (just kidding! … kinda).
So, to those clamoring for impeaching this president, I would caution you to be careful what you wish for.
You might just get it.
 Stanage, Niall (2/16/17)
 Smith, Mikey (2/6/17)
 Delaney, Arthur (3/6/17)
 National Public Radio (10/6/2016)