Tuesday, August 08, 2017


At GQ, Jason Zengerle tries to imagine a Mike Pence presidency -- and doesn't get very far. The bulk of Zengerle's speculation concerns the sort of inside baseball you'd expect from a former Politico writer:
Consensus holds that Pence would want to surround himself with new staff—particularly Republican heavyweights, aides and operatives of the stature and pedigree that Trump wasn’t able to lure to the White House.

Dan Scavino, Trump’s former golf caddie who now serves as the White House director of social media and an assistant to the president, would almost certainly be bounced. Ditto for rookie staffers and family members like Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Strategists like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller? “I’m sure Mike prays for both of their souls every night,” says one former Pence adviser, predicting they’d be axed.

Surprisingly, one high-profile survivor might be Kellyanne Conway....
Enough. So, Jason, what about, y'know, policy? On that subject, Zengerle has a smoking-hot take: that the proudly evangelical Pence would actually be less Jesus-y than his current boss, a notion Zengerle gets from a couple of well-positioned but rather naive insiders.

No, really:
Perhaps [Pence's] most infamous move as governor of Indiana was signing a bill allowing businesses to discriminate against gays. Pence also pushed to mandate burials for aborted fetuses and made it possible to charge doctors who carried out certain abortions with wrongful death.

But for all the fears of a coming theocracy under Pence, more sober-minded observers suspect he could be largely hamstrung on sweeping social issues. Indeed, Pence’s religious fervor might, ironically, give him less room to push for some of the conservative policies Trump has enacted. For instance, Trump’s reinstatement of a ban on U.S. foreign aid being shared with NGOs that perform abortions probably would have garnered more attention—and been perceived as more of a religiously motivated move by critics—had it been orchestrated by Pence. “Trump can do a lot of socially conservative things,” Ponnuru says, “without getting the reputation of a moralistic theocrat because of his bad character—the charge is just not believable.”

There’s a way of thinking about Trump’s outrageous behavior—and even the scandals that result from it—as politically helpful to Trump. Anita Dunn, who served as communications director in the Obama White House, has detected in Trump’s antics a kind of smoke screen that keeps his policies from being fully dissected. “When Trump does horrible stuff like [the abortion-funding ban],” she says, “he’s providing a high level of entertainment on so many levels that people don’t have the energy to notice as much. There’s no way Pence will ever take up as much oxygen.” And as a result, the thinking goes, Pence’s ambitions might be easier to oppose.
You know what will provide a smoke screen for Pence if he becomes president? Not being Trump. The press, including allegedly liberal organs, will be over the moon if Trump is pushed out, and will revel in Pence's surface blandness and willingness to operate within traditional governing norms. That's what every story about him will focus on during his inevitable long honeymoon: He's filling subcabinet positions! He's spends quiet weekends reading briefing books and having dinner with his wife! He doesn't tweet!

And so if he wants to push out a Focus on the Family-approved executive order at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon, he'll weather the storm. The usual voices on our side will raise alarms, but the mainstream press will luxuriate in Pence being so gosh-darn Middle American, so ... regular.

It will take quite a while for progressives to become fully reenergized in order to fight Pence. In the meantime, he'll get away with a lot.

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