Written by Jesser Horowitz
(Jesser Horowitz is a Vassar senior, and regular columnist for the Miscellany News)
The Economist has a recurring series titled “The World If”, presenting hypothetical scenarios for the future that, by exploring, allows us to examine the present. I have decided to make my own go at the genre, I hope with some success. I view this piece as being a realistic, nuanced political argument in favor of seeking impeachment, an argument that hinges on theorizing the fallout from a Pence presidency. I hope to do so while recognizing the concerns and issues. I believe that this is the best way discuss the political ramifications of impeachment: a straightforward argument on this topic would not be as moving one that hinged on what a Trump-less future could hold.
“It’s time to bring back confidence in our country, in our leadership, in our families, in our God. It’s time to bring back the traditional values that built and shaped our nation; and I mean traditional values, good, hard old-fashioned American values, not the values of the Eastern elites or Hollywood socialists. I’m talking about respecting your family, respecting the Lord, honoring your parents and your partner. We need to renew our faith in our nation, to make it great, the way it once was.”
President Mike Pence looks considerably older than he did just a year and a half ago, when he took over for his disgraced former boss. He hasn’t worn the presidency well: his face is considerably more wrinkled, he’s going bald, he looks tired at cabinet meetings and public events. His brief administration has been one publicity nightmare after another, one attack after the next.
Last Sunday’s speech at the University of Tampa was supposed to be his turnaround. His last public event before the Republican National Convention, Pence was gearing to make this his Donald Trump moment, utilizing the ex-President’s language and off-the-cuff antics. He’s borrowing more and more from his old boss, who the right has increasingly hailed as a martyr for conservatism. According to officials close to him, Pence’s team had hoped that sympathy for the President would catapult him to victory this November. This, of course, has proven wrong so far.
Even though Pence has the nomination guaranteed, far-right challenger Steve King of Iowa still campaigns throughout the nation. There’s rumors that he’ll leave to form his own party, which were all-but-confirmed after King met last week with right-wing donors. Mr. Trump, now residing at Mar-a-Lago, has largely stayed out of this bizarre Republican primary season, perhaps distracted by his high-profile divorce or his continuing legal battle with the state of New York. His daughter, Ivanka Trump, with Jared Kushner, her husband, has taken over running most of the family business, while his son, Donald Jr., preps for a Senate race in his new home of Virginia. Most agree, however, that the Trump klan’s five minutes of fame is essentially over. His movement has been taken up by others: Steve Bannon, Steve King, Alex Jones, and the lot.
While the Trump family may no longer be in the news, its presence, or absence, is still felt in Washington. It looms large over the city. For many, very little has changed since when Donald Trump, before an audience of millions of people, called it quits. While there may no longer be regular twitter updates from our President, lashing out at the Congress, the American people, and various celebrities, the state of discourse has hardly improved. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman Democratic representative that gained national attention two years ago for her long-shot primary victory against House Democratic Caucus chair Joe Crowley, rose three days ago to call for the impeachment of “Mike Pence, and every Republican currently serving” for “failing to protect the people of the United States.” Just a week ago, Rand Paul, once the darling of the conservative-libertarian movement, who now has been reduced to a stooge of the populist right, suggested on the Senate floor that “some of my colleagues here…who betray American liberty with their big government proposals, may just deserve to be…tried for treason, as enemies of the people”.
On the ground, the situation is not much better. While the Democrats are not nearly as engaged as they were under Trump, the far-left is just as angry. The progressive influence in the party is growing: while Bernie Sanders was not able to outdo his 2016 performance, his movement has spread, and has become the dominant ideology of the mainstream left. Last week, Joe Biden, Vice President under Obama, and the current Democratic nominee for president, announced that Elizabeth Warren, the progressive left hero, would serve as his running mate, probably to offset concerns that Biden would be too mainstream to excite people. So far, it’s worked: while many independents have baulked at her inclusion on the ticket, the decision has energized the base.
Pence could use that energy. When he took office, some conservative pundits speculated that he would be the most popular president in history: beloved by the right for his conservative values, tolerated by the left for not being Donald Trump. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Instead, The Democrats despise Pence for his administration’s crackdown on LGBT protections, abortion rights, and undocumented immigrants. The right’s reaction has varied: evangelicals express enthusiasm for their new leader, but the rest aren’t so certain.
While Mike Pence has earned the enthusiastic praise of Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, and other hard-right conservatives, the populist, pro-Trump base that has increasingly dominated the Republican Party refuses to embrace him. Many have still not forgiven him for the anonymous New York Times editorial that many are convinced he wrote, despite his frequent and fervent denials. During his campaign announcement, Representative King repeatedly referred to him as “the bastard who stabbed our President in the back”. Steve Bannon, although he ultimately endorsed Pence in the primaries, publicly speculated whether Pence orchestrated his predecessor’s fall, or collaborated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Alex Jones suggested, perhaps unseriously, that Trump supporters should “go after” Pence and “show him that the people won’t back down”, a threat that has landed Mr. Jones in federal court. Even though over 60% of Republicans still tolerate the President, and even 49% of Democrats, according to a recent Washington Post poll, admit that he’s a better President than Donald Trump, Pence has seen no enthusiasm, no groundswell of support, and has no chance at victory. Polls show him consistently down by over 15%, and if King, or someone like him, mounts a third party run, his chances at re-election goes down the tubes.
So as Mike Pence, the former darling of the religious right, takes the stage at Tampa, one must wonder what is going through his head. Does he realize that this is pointless exercise? Does he understand that, no matter what he does, no matter what he says, no matter whose ass he kisses, he will still lose come November? The tragedy of President Mike Pence is that a man who has spent the entirety of his life seeking one office has finally obtained it, only to discover he can do nothing with it.