SAN DIEGO – Say it isn’t so, Mike.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has won “Vice President Apprentice” and earned the dubious distinction of serving alongside Donald Trump on the Republican presidential ticket.
I understand why Trump offered Pence the job; the Indiana governor is first-rate, well-liked and widely respected with a calm and reassuring disposition, political experience at the state and federal level, and service as both a legislator and chief executive.
What I don’t understand is why Pence accepted. Trump is a train wreck. The real estate mogul is a novice and a narcissist who says whatever pops into his head, has few core principles, and loves himself so much that it’s unclear whether he loves anything more – including the country.
Trump’s VP choice is a tough pill to swallow for those of us in the “Never Trump” movement who know Pence, have followed his career, admire his skills and genuinely like the guy.
When I’m pressed to name the Democratic elected official I admire most, I usually go with Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who had the guts to get arrested twice outside the White House protesting President Obama’s repressive immigration policies, to the chagrin of many in his own party.
But when asked to name the Republican I admire most, I would always choose Pence. I’ve written about the graduate of Hanover College for more than a decade, and I’ve found him to be a rare breed – a Republican with a sharp mind, a good heart and common sense. He has strong conservative principles, but – unlike many in his party – he doesn’t do demagoguery.
So why is Pence hanging out with the likes of Trump? I feel like this is a test. I’d love to see Pence serve as vice president – but not at the expense of electing Trump president.
Pence should know better. Ambition has to have limits. Linking up with Trump will only hurt the governor’s brand in the long run. History will remember him unfavorably, as someone who so badly wanted to be in the White House – even if only in the smaller office down the hall from the president – that he was willing to play second fiddle to someone who opposed much of what he believed in, and believed in much of what he opposed.
After all, Pence is not exactly what you would call a Trump Republican. He didn’t even back Trump during the Indiana primary. Instead, the governor threw his support to an outspoken senator from Texas.
Before ballots were cast, Pence said during a radio interview: “I’m not against anybody, but I will be voting for Ted Cruz in the upcoming Republican primary.” But he also commended Trump for having “given voice to the frustrations of millions of working Americans.”
I first became aware of Pence in 2005 when, while serving in Congress, he dove into the mosh pit of the immigration debate and took on the thankless task of writing a comprehensive reform bill. He recruited Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas to co-sponsor the legislation.
While securing the border and creating a guest worker program, the Hutchison-Pence bill gave the undocumented the means to stay in the United States. The idea was to require one member of a family to go back to the home country for one- or two-day processing sessions – at what Pence called “Ellis Island Centers” – before returning to the United States with a temporary work permit and the ability, for them and their families, to live here without being deported.
While not perfect, that’s a grown-up solution – the kind you don’t see often in the immigration debate.
Liberals mocked the idea, up to the point where they tried to copy it in legislation of their own.
But it was conservatives who really hated the plan. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who was then perhaps the most openly nativist member of Congress, attacked the Pence plan as a “mini-amnesty.” And House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner – who had proposed his own draconian immigration bill that wasn’t going anywhere – tried to undermine Pence and derail the bill.
With enemies like that, I figured Pence must be good people. So I contacted him, and we began a series of interviews and conversations during which I determined that this was exactly what he was: good people.
And now that Trump-Pence is a thing, we know that even good people can sometimes make bad decisions and show poor judgment.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com.