According to some news reports, Donald Trump has settled on Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his vice presidential running mate, though other reporters say their sources tell them the decision has not been finalized. Trump has said he will announce his decision on Friday morning.
Pence has a long record before becoming governor that includes time in nearly every branch of the country’s huge right-wing political infrastructure: He headed a state-level “free-market” think tank; had a career in talk radio; and served in Congress, where he led the right-wing Republican Study Committee.
That’s a lot of right-wingery that we and others will be exploring in depth if he is indeed Trump’s running mate. But here are a few initial points about Pence’s relationship with the Religious Right, whose leaders seem to be largely coming around to Trump’s candidacy despite initial skepticism.
Pence has been much beloved on the Religious Right. Early in the 2012 election cycle, he won the Values Voter Summit straw poll and won gushing praise from CBN’s David Brody. Even the American Family Association’s far-right radio host Bryan Fischer predicted that Pence would be the 2012 nominee.
Pence has participated in Christian-nation advocate David Lane’s political events and he has been an aggressive proponent of defunding Planned Parenthood. He has connections with other Religious Right leaders through the National Day of Prayer task force.
Pence was unhappily in the national media last year when Indiana became embroiled in a high-profile controversy over a state “religious liberty” law pushed by anti-gay groups and signed by the governor. Pence seemed to have been caught completely off-guard when business and community leaders joined equality activists in a backlash to the law.
Pence tried to defend the law on national television, with disastrous results. Pence’s main problem is that he was essentially caught in a lie. He pretended the bill had nothing to do with legalizing anti-gay discrimination, when that was the clear purpose of the religious groups that pushed the law and gathered around him when he signed it.
But having said that protecting discrimination wasn’t the law’s intent, he was not well positioned to resist demands by business leaders and media that he sign an amendment saying so. When he ultimately signed off on such an amendment, some Religious Right leaders were furious. Some compared his reversal to an act of betrayal like Judas selling out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
It is not clear how warmly Religious Right leaders will embrace Pence as Trump’s running mate. Earlier this week, anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera responded to rumors about Pence as VP by tweeting, “HOW ironic it wld be if Mike Pence ever became VP. Pence declined to run for president in part b/c he FAILED conservatives on relig liberty.”
Others may be more forgiving given Pence’s long track record, and may rationalize that his heart was in the right place but he was forced to back down when business leaders and the LGBT lobby — twin enemies of the Religious Right these days — ganged up on him.