Indiana University experts available to comment on Pence as VP selection

  • July 14, 2016


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- News reports Thursday said Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, was expected name Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate. Faculty experts from Indiana University are available to comment on Pence’s tenure as governor and what brings to the GOP ticket.

Pence became governor in January 2013. He represented Indiana in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013.

Conventional choice for unconventional candidate

Marjorie Hershey, professor of political science in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington, says Trump's choice of Pence is a relatively more conventional choice for a very unconventional candidate.

“If he had chosen Christie or Gingrich, he'd be doubling down on Trump,” she said. “Pence is more conventional in the sense of connecting Trump with an important Republican constituency: evangelicals and other moral conservatives.”

Hershey said Trump may need that connection because his own positions on "values" issues have not been reliably conservative and because his personal life may not appeal to moral conservatives. But she said evangelicals have been solid Republican voters, supporting candidates as different as George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney.

“So Trump may be trying to cement the loyalties of a group of people whose loyalties are fully hardened already,” Hershey said. “And nominating a vice presidential candidate who has become very controversial in a highly Republican state is certainly an interesting choice.”

Washington experience a plus

Leslie Lenkowsky, professor emeritus at the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, says Pence adds a strong culturally and religiously conservative element to the ticket, which may reassure voters who are worried about Trump’s support for their concerns.

“His political experience in Washington and Indiana is a plus, but not a big one,” he said. “Pence is also a good communicator, though he is going to have to improve his ability to handle the kinds of questions he will get as a vice-presidential candidate.”

A solid and safe choice

William Blomquist, a professor of political science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, says Pence is probably a better choice than former Rep. Newt Gingrich or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who share Trump’s tendency to make brash comments.

Pence received negative media attention last year with the backlash against Indiana’s religious freedom law, Blomquist said. And Pence’s support for Indiana’s abortion restrictions won’t improve Trump’s deficit with women.

“On the other hand, among strongly conservative Republican voters, getting negative media coverage is generally regarded as a badge of honor,” he said. “Overall, it isn’t by any means a home run or an out-of-the-box choice, but it’s a solid and safe one.

“Pence can campaign on Trump’s behalf in front of Christian conservative groups and Tea Party groups, where Pence has been well-regarded, especially during his time in the U.S. House. Pence will assure them that Trump will govern in the ways they want, and try to mollify their fears that Trump is a closeted northeastern liberal who would betray them once in office. Pence is Trump’s ‘seal of approval’ with the socially conservative wing of the party.”

Could help Trump with churchgoers

Brad R. Fulton, an assistant professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs who conducts research on community and faith-based organizations, noted that Trump has strong support from self-identified evangelical Christians but relatively low support among those who regularly attend church.

“Pence certainly would help Trump bring in votes among conservative Christians, especially among those who attend church regularly,” Fulton said.

'Washington political' to balance 'New York financial'

Lee Hamilton, distinguished scholar in the IU School of Global and International Studies and a member of Congress from 1965 to 1999, says the first point about Trump’s choice is that Pence will shore up appeal to social conservatives. And many social conservatives perceive Trump as not fully trustworthy, he said.

“Secondly, I think Pence does bring familiarity with Washington, the Congress and how things operate there,” Hamilton said. “Trump likes that. He's had no government experience, and his network of friends is largely New York financial rather than Washington political. So I think that's an area where Pence strengthens the ticket.”

Pros and cons to selection

Aaron Dusso, assistant professor of political science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, cautions that the choice of a vice presidential candidate gets a lot of attention from the media but isn’t that important in the outcome of the election. “At best, the pick might help gain a few percentage points in the candidate’s home state,” he said.

He said there would be pros and cons to selecting Pence. On the plus side, Pence would be a “generic Republican to go with the not-so-generic candidate” Trump, which could soothe anxieties of “establishment Republicans." But Trump is favored to win Indiana, so he gains little strategically by adding him to the ticket. And Pence has lost popularity and was in a close re-election race.

“Pence has little to no national name recognition,” Dusso said. “To the extent that people around the country remember him it will likely be from the fiasco surrounding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

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Marjorie Hershey

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Leslie Lenkowsky

Leslie Lenkowsky

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William Blomquist

William Blomquist

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