Election 2016

Meet Mike Pence, Possible Donald Trump Vice President

The Indiana guv is a social conservative, surveillance-state booster, drug warrior...and budget hawk. So where does that leave libertarians? Still #NeverTrump.


Mike Pence
Gage Skidmore, Flickr, Wikimedia

Republican Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, says the Washington Times, has a "95 percent probability" of being named Donald Trump's vice presidential candidate.

So what kind of pol is the 57-year-old Pence, who has a law degree in his back pocket? He served five terms as a congressman from the Hoosier State, where he distinguished himself as a budget-cutter and a hard-core social conservative before succeeding Mitch Daniels as governor of Indiana in a tight election (he won with less than 50 percent of the vote in 2012). He's locked in a tough re-election battle and has to file papers by the end of the week if he wants to be the GOP's vice presidential nominee. He describes himself as "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order."

Some highlights—and lowlights—from his public career so far:

  • He served as president of the free-market Indiana Policy Review Foundation and hosted a state-wide TV show in the early 1990s. The IPRF lists its mission as trying to "Exalt the truths of the Declaration of Independence, especially as they apply to the interrelated freedoms of religion, property and speech; Emphasize the primacy of the individual in addressing public concerns; and Recognize that equality of opportunity is sacrificed in pursuit of equality of results."
  • He succeeded the awful Dan Burton as an Indiana congressman in 2001 and became the head of the budget-slashing Republican Study Committee and he supported numerous free-trade deals along with the Iraq War.
  • In 2014, Pence was one of just four governors to earn a grade of A in the Cato Institute's Fiscal Policy Report Card, mostly because he proposed spending increases of less than 2 percent and revenue decreases (tax cuts) of just under 2 percent.
  • In 2015, he expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, though unlike most governors, he held out for something other than a straight-up expansion, claiming he introduced a "market-based" plan that Peter Suderman said was "actually a deal between hospital lobbyists and the [Obama] Administration."
  • He also tried to create a state-operated news organization called Just IN that would have produced "free" news and feature stories for news outlets. From Ballotpedia: "Matthew Tully of the [Indianapolis] Star…criticized the initiative by saying, 'The state's conservative governor is creating his own news agency, one that will seek to compete with the traditional media and be funded by taxpayers. You can't make this stuff up, unless you work at the Onion, I guess.'"

  • OnTheIssues.org

    Also in 2015, he helped cause a shitstorm over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) by simultaneously insisting that the law didn't sanction discrimination but did preserve the rights of businesses to deny service to LGBT customers under various situations. Come on, gov, it's one or the other, noted Jacob Sullum. The law was subsequently revised in a way that struck "the worst possible balance" between individual rights and state action, according to Shikha Dalmia. More recently, in his 2016 State of the State address, he said, "I will not support any bill that diminishes the religious freedom of Hoosiers or that interferes with the Constitutional rights of our citizens to live out their beliefs in worship, service or work." That was widely understood to mean that he would not sanction the addition of sexual orientation or identity to antidiscrimination laws, a position in keeping with all his public statements on marriage and sexuality.

  • A key line in that same speech was "Jobs, the economy, schools, roads and confronting drug abuse. These are my priorities." He laid out various spending proposals on such issues and bragged, "Our state has been leaning into the war on drugs and will continue to go hard after those who would profit from selling drugs to our kids." In March, he signed legislation increasing mandatory minimums for drug dealers.

So where does all of this leave libertarians? Pence is pretty damn good on spending issues and unlike a lot of Republican governors, his tax cuts haven't bankrupted his state (take a bow, Sam Brownback). That's not a small achievement and neither was his willingness to vote down Medicare prescription drugs and No Child Left Behind when he was in Congress. At one point while in Congress, he proposed an immigration plan that would have allowed illegals to apply for legal status but only after they removed themselves from the U.S. of A. Conservatives screamed that "touchback amnesty" was just as bad as letting foreigners stay here. By the same token, he's hostile to marriage equality and laissez-faire lifestyle issues more generally (including the war on drugs), hawkish on foreign policy, and truly terrible on government surveillance. He hates Syrian refugees, of course, and while he really hates the federal government, his first budget as governor included federal dollars covering 35 percent of outlays.

Which is to say that Pence is not the worst of the Republican bunch but he's not the best, especially from a libertarian perspective. He is very much a modal Republican and, as such, is hardly going to be a game-changer one way or the other. There's a reason only 26 percent of Americans identify as Republican and Pence's various positions help to explain why. Whatever the benefits of his economic positions, coupling them with generally reactionary cultural positions and abject servility to state surveillance and an interventionist foreign policy leaves more and more people—and certainly libertarians—stone cold.

Exactly what he would bring to the GOP ticket electorally is anybody's guess but generally speaking, there's no reason to believe that any vice-presidential candidate matters very much in terms of winning or losing elections. Even Sarah Palin in 2008, a pick that at least kept the McCain campaign wheezing along for at least a few extra weeks, essentially had no positive or negative influence on the outcome, according to most analysts. And there's certainly no reason to think that Pence is going to matter very much to many people when it comes to pulling the lever this way or that.

Here's a 2008 Reason TV video with Pence at the Republican National Convention in which the governor lays out the case for why libertarians should support the GOP candidate John McCain.