Brian Howey: An opportunity for Pence to address intolerance
Sunday, November 27, 2016 11:14 AM
BEAN BLOSSOM, Ind. - Here’s a holiday trivia quiz: Name a Hoosier running for executive office who didn’t poll a majority of the popular vote even though this person won both times.
That would be Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
The Donald Trump/Mike Pence ticket now trails Democrat Hillary Clinton by more than 2 million votes out of 126.4 million cast. In 2012, the governor won with just 49 percent of the vote here in Indiana in a three-way gubernatorial race.
To the victor go the spoils, as the old saying goes. But simply winning an election doesn’t mean a mandate. I went kayaking on the Whitewater River near Brookville last September and driving from Nashville through Greensburg, Batesville, Oldenburg and Metamora was to find with dozens of Trump/Pence yard signs, some homemade. In rural America, it feels like a mandate.
The reality is, we live in a divided land. It would have been the same if Clinton had won the Electoral College. Grasping the helm of a roiled nation requires a different type of leadership.
What happened to Gov. Pence after his 2012 win is instructive. He governed in mandate style, signing several pieces of socially divisive legislation like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, while polls showed public sentiment going in the opposite direction. In the four polls conducted this cycle by WTHR/Howey Politics Indiana, we found Gov. Pence to be one of the most polarizing figures in modern Hoosier politics. While he could have won reelection, he and his team eagerly opted for the national ticket last July as the better career move. It was something he openly pursued when dozens of other Republicans begged off. He was amply rewarded on Nov. 8.
Pence came back to Indiana a few days after Trump named him head of the transition team. He gave a Veterans Day speech at Camp Atterbury before settling in at the gubernatorial retreat Aynes House in the middle of Brown County State Park. Inside the cabin that weekend there was certainly a celebratory mood. But there were dark forces batting around the state. Sixteen miles to the west in Bloomington, KKK and Nazi swastikas were spray painted on a public trail. The Democratic headquarters was vandalized. Fourteen miles to the east in Pence’s hometown of Columbus, Latino high school students were taunted with “build that wall.” And about six miles to the north here Bean Blossom, an Episcopal Church was vandalized with swastikas and “Heil Trump” spray painted on its walls. I drove by St. David’s Episcopal Church on the way to the IU-Purdue football came on Saturday and to see this vandalism in person is shocking.
Some of this is the work of delinquents seeking shock value. But there is a palpable unease coursing through our nation after one of the most coarse and divisive campaigns in modern history.
Earlier this week, the white nationalist National Policy Institute convened in Washington, with The Atlantic magazine revealing members shouting “Heil Trump” and give Nazi salutes. When talking with New York Times editors and reporters on Tuesday, Trump did what he should have done. “This not a group I want to energize,” he said. “And if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why. I condemn them. I disavow, and I condemn.”
It’s one thing to disavow this type of rhetoric and conduct before New York Times journalists. It’s another to choose a conspicuous public forum to make clear that this incoming administration is not of authoritarian bent. Because of Trump’s campaign rhetoric over the past 15 months, many saw what they described as a demagogue with authoritarian leanings. It clearly motivated some of his supporters. One Indiana county clerk observed of the robust early vote in her rural county, noting that many showed up wearing camouflage (and this was before deer season).
Much of Trump’s support wasn’t from the “basket of deplorables” as Clinton described them. I know many, many Trump voters. Their motivation was to break the system as we know it. And it’s been busted.
This past week, we’ve seen Trump literally evolve before our eyes. He could get his crowds to chant “lock her up,” but now won’t seek a special prosecutor for Hillary Clinton. He once denounced the Paris climate accords, but now signals that global warming could be abetted by mankind, saying he is “keeping an open mind to it.” He once saw waterboarding as an option against terrorists, but now quotes Gen. Mad Dog Mattis as saying he can glean more information with a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers. He once belittled 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, but is now considering him as secretary of state.
Perhaps Trump is cognizant that losing the popular vote belies a mandate. Perhaps a move to the center is a path toward reconciliation.
Gov. Pence will return to Indiana in December for the state’s bicentennial celebration. He would be wise to address the divisions we face in our state and nation. There’s an opportunity for him to set a tone of tolerance in a nation and state roiled in fear and loathing.
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.