Donald Trump made it official today, introducing Indiana GOP Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate. The problem is the act of choosing Pence itself, and the hysterically sad cavalcade of failure leading up to Pence's selection, hasn't quieted Trump's critics who say he'll get stomped in November and all but end the GOP while doing it.
Donald Trump’s selection of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a strait-laced and seasoned conservative, as his running mate Friday was designed to be a soothing overture that could repair the fractured Republican Party and signal a newfound discipline in the celebrity billionaire’s bid for the White House.
But Trump’s apparent 11th-hour indecision and private hesitation about Pence, coupled with a delayed and fitful introduction, threatened to undercut part of the rationale for Pence joining the ticket: steadying a turbulent general-election campaign.
Trump announced Friday on Twitter that he had chosen Pence and that they would make their first joint appearance at a news conference Saturday in New York. The social-media proclamation capped a period of extraordinary uncertainty and mixed signals about the selection, just days before the Republican National Convention is set to open here in Cleveland.
“I’m very excited, very humbled and very grateful,” Pence told reporters gathered outside his Manhattan hotel as he made his way to Trump Tower for a 90-minute meeting with the candidate and campaign advisers.
In Pence, Trump has a classically credentialed if generic campaign partner. Trump, 70, will rely on the 57-year-old Midwesterner to shore up support where Pence has nurtured deep relationships, such as on the Christian right and with the conservative movement’s moneyed establishment. A former chairman of the House Republican Conference, the ideological purist was embraced by many corners of the Republican coalition Friday that had been cool to Trump’s candidacy.
But there were also immediate signs that Pence could shift the focus of the overall debate in ways Trump may not intend. Pence brings a visceral ideological edge to what has been a populist campaign centered on economic grievances and strident nationalism.
While Trump mostly avoids social issues on the campaign trail and his positions have evolved over the years, Pence has a history of vocally promoting a hard-line conservative agenda — from opposing same-sex marriage and abortion rights to defunding Planned Parenthood.
On a related note, "overt racism" is now known as "economic grievances and strident nationalism". Thanks Robert Costa!
Seriously though, if you thought Donald Trump was doing badly with women before, well, let's talk about Mike Pence's record, shall we?
Take, for example, an ongoing outbreak of HIV in southern Indiana. From December 2014 to May of this year, 191 cases of HIV, nearly all linked to the injection of the painkiller Opana, were found in Scott County, a rural area near the Kentucky border. Before the outbreak, there had been numerous deaths and known risks from the increase in injection drug use in the area for several years. Pence had long been a vocal opponent of needle exchange programs, which allow drug users to trade in used syringes for sterile ones in order to stop the spread of diseases, despite evidence that they work. Such programs were banned in the state when the outbreak started.
At the end of March last year, four months after the outbreak began, Pence declared a public health emergency, allowing needle exchanges to be opened in Scott County. Scott County Health Officer Dr. R. Kevin Rogers described the program as having “a tremendously positive and dramatic impact” and recently made a successful request to have the program extended until May 2017. At least four other counties have been allowed to start programs as well. Still, Pence hasn’t moved to lift the state ban on funding for needle exchanges and has made it clear in the past that he would veto any bill that tried to lift the ban statewide.
Pence has also shown a deep misunderstanding of basic public health principles in the past. In 2001, he wrote an op-ed declaring that “smoking doesn’t kill.” The evidence? “Two out of three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness.” Diseases are rarely the product of one thing. With lung cancer, for example, there’s a strong genetic component. Some people who don’t smoke will get lung cancer.1 Many people who do smoke will not. Relative risk, which measures the strength of the relationship between an exposure and a health outcome (smoking and lung cancer in this instance), is a funny thing; it can’t be used to measure the risk for an individual, only a group. And at that macro level, the risk of smoking is quite clear, as this oft-cited American Cancer Society chart shows.
Lung cancer isn’t even the most common negative health outcome from smoking. That distinction goes to vascular diseases that cause heart disease and/or stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Pence’s home state of Indiana should be particularly concerned about tobacco: 23 percent of adults are smokers, the sixth-highest statewide rate in the United States. Fifteen percent of pregnant women smoke, nearly double the national average, and the state spent $2.93 billion in 2014 on health costs caused by cigarette smoking — more per capita than 31 other states, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Still, Indiana has a cigarette tax of just 99 cents,2 lower than 35 other states, despite a wealth of evidence showing that increasing taxes on tobacco reduces smoking rates.
And of course, there's the state's insane abortion law that Pence signed in March.
Indiana already tightly regulates abortion. Now, HB 1337 puts forth a laundry list of additional restrictions that lawmakers haven’t previously been able to get passed.
The legislation includes several provisions that fit into a larger strategy to shame women for the reasons they may decide to end a pregnancy. Women will be prohibited from choosing an abortion based on their fetuses’ gender, a policy that’s based on racist assumptions about Asian American women’s attitudes toward daughters. Women will also be barred from choosing an abortion if their fetus has genetic abnormalities like Down Syndrome, a rare restriction — only North Dakota has successfully enacted it so far — that seeks to drive a wedge between the abortion rights community and the disability rights community.
Doctors will be held liable if the state determines they performed an abortion on a patient who had one of those motivations in mind. It’s unclear exactly how this policy will be enforced in practice. But leading medical groups warn that it could compromise the doctor-patient relationship by chilling open conversation about pregnancy decisions.
There's more. HB 1337 also imposes strict regulations on abortion doctors, requiring them to obtain "admitting privileges" at local hospitals, that are designed to drive them out of business. It requires the remains of miscarried or aborted fetuses to be buried or cremated. And it restricts the donation of fetal tissue, a crucial tool in medical research that's come under fire thanks to asmear campaign against Planned Parenthood that construes the practice as "selling baby parts."
Parts of that law are now on hold due to the recent Supreme Court decision on Texas's TRAP laws, but the point is Mike Pence wants to have the government force women to cremate or bury their aborted fetal tissue as punishment.
And he's now Donald Trump's veep pick.
The most virulently misogynist ticket in American history? Absolutely. These two absolutely personify the Republican War on Women.