Pence’s per­plex­ing pivot to Trump

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ruben Navarette Jr.

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 firstrate, 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 HutchisonPence 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 “mini­amnesty.” 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 TrumpPence is a thing, we know that even good peo­ple can some­times make bad de­ci­sions and show poor judg­ment.

Ruben Navarette Jr. is a syn­di­cated colum­nist from the Wash­ing­ton Post. His email is reuben@ruben­navarette.com.

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