Pence Could Build Bridges to Social Conservatives, GOP Lawmakers Say
Democrats point to his 'underwater' approval ratings in Indiana
Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate would help improve his relations with Congress, particularly its most conservative members concerned with social issues, several Republican lawmakers said Thursday.
“I think he makes the ticket better immediately,” said House Republican Policy Committee Chairman Luke Messer, who replaced Pence as the representative of Indiana’s 6th District after Pence left to run for governor.
“He has a long and strong record as both a national security and social conservative and he will help bring those coalitions home for the fall campaign,” Messer said.
Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King also emphasized Pence’s record on social issues, particularly his strong opposition to abortion, as something that will help Trump.
“He fills in a lot of the blanks on the social conservative side of this and he gives a lot of confidence to the evangelical community in America, to the pro-life, to the pro-family people and to the constitutionalist,” King said.
Trump has frustrated some conservatives with his fluctuating stance on abortion, at one point praising Planned Parenthood while at another time calling for punishing women who terminate their pregnancies. Pence, on the other hand, signed a bill this year restricting women’s access to abortion.
“Probably the nominee looks on Gov. Pence as somebody who reassures a lot of the people who would be delegates at the convention,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said.
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Democrats and some Republicans questioned whether Pence would have broad appeal, given his conservative stances. His abortion bill drew criticism, as did a religious liberties measure he championed last year that many viewed as allowing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“You’ve got a guy whose job approval is under water in Indiana,” said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y. “I just don’t know how that’s going to help Donald Trump.”
Whether Pence helps win votes will depend on what the business mogul is trying to accomplish with the pick, said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., who has not endorsed Trump.
“Ideologically, obviously he’s very doctrinaire, socially conservative,” Dent said of Pence. “If the objective here is to try to put the base together, then I would understand the decision. … If the decision to select Mike was to broaden the base, I’m not so sure that this helps.”
Dent said that Pence is thoughtful and has a good tone and temperament but that the choice doesn’t make Dent want to endorse Trump.
Likewise, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the selection of Pence as his running mate would not be enough for him to support Trump’s candidacy.
“Nothing’s changed there,” Graham said. “I just think it would be a good choice. If he wins the White House, I’ll certainly do everything I can to help President Trump, and the same for President Clinton.”
Republican lawmakers said Pence’s resume, with experience in legislative and executive government, also helps make him a good choice for vice president.
“He’s a former Republican Study Committee Chair,” current RSC Chairman Bill Flores of Texas said. “He’s a solid conservative. He’s got CEO experience as the governor. He’s got Capitol Hill experience, so he knows how to deal with Congress. Just an awesome choice.”
As a former chairman of the House Republican Conference, Pence has good relationships with Republicans in Congress, including the current GOP leadership.
“It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Mike Pence’s,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin said Thursday morning. “We’re very good friends. I have very high regard for him. I hope that [Trump] picks a good movement conservative. Clearly, Mike is one of those.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., also cited Pence’s experience in the House and said he’d be a “real add to the ticket.”
South Carolina GOP Sen. Tim Scott highlighted Pence’s background in radio.
“He’s an articulate guy and has a done very good job,” Scott said. “Used to be a radio guy and has a good voice. If he is the nominee, I think we’ll be proud of what he represents.”
Many members believe that Pence on the ticket will help Trump with his relationships in Congress, but the presumptive nominee has already been making inroads. Many lawmakers had positive things to say following Trump’s meetings July 7 with House and Senate Republicans.
“I think the relationships between Trump and Congress are already improving, and so that relationship is more incumbent on Donald Trump than it is Mike Pence,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said.
But Pence also worked with the White House, something that could cut both ways in the election.
He worked with the Obama administration to fashion a plan to expand Medicaid coverage in Indiana, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, noting that is something he could have to explain to conservative voters and donors.
In Indiana, Pence isn’t particularly popular, Rep. Andre Carson said.
“If you go to Indiana right now you’d see so many ‘Pence must go’ signs you’d dizzy yourself,” the Hoosier state Democrat said.
Despite that, Carson said he and Pence had a good relationship and they often had lunch together in the House cafeteria when Pence served in Congress.
As one of two Muslim members of Congress, Carson appreciates that Pence has previously denounced Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country and hopes he’ll continue to do so.
“I have stark disagreements with him philosophically as it relates to the Religious Freedom Act, allowing entities to discriminate against the LGBT community. … Not allowing women to have the right to choose what to do with their bodies – that to me causes deep concerns,” Carson said.
In terms of ideology, Trump and Pence are “two peas in a pod,” Carson said, but added that Pence will provide a good balance for Trump in terms of how he delivers their shared message.
“Trump has shown himself to be immensely impulsive and deeply emotional, but he leads from the gut,” Carson said. “So I think Pence’s way is more measured. He comes from media, he’s more thoughtful, he’s more calculating so that could probably help Trump unlike a Newt Gingrich.”
Rema Rahman, Niels Lewsniewski, Alex Gangitano and John Bennett contributed to this report.