Brian Howey: Pence's excellent adventure at the GOP cataclysm
Saturday, October 15, 2016 8:38 AM
MERRILLVILLE – Last Friday night, Gov. Mike Pence’s excellent adventure brought him to Tony Packo’s, a legendary Toledo restautant. His campaign team had promised the traveling press (Pence no longer talks to Indiana media) a photo op with a hotdog bun autographed by his running mate, Donald Trump.
And then . . . breaking news! A 2005 video of Trump in lewd locker room banter with Billy Bush on a Access Hollywood outtake broke. Trump talked about making sexual advances on married women and grabbing them by their genitals. And there was this line: “When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.”
While just about everyone else saw this kind of story coming, Pence was shell-shocked in Toledo. Multiple sources described him as under siege. After he issued a terse statement saying he couldn’t “condone” or “defend” Trump’s remarks, the speculation was he would drop off the ticket. By Saturday he was back on the campaign trail. On Sunday, Trump threw him under the bus in his second debate with Hillary Clinton. Asked about Pence’s own debate comments on the potential use of U.S. military force in Syria, Trump icily responded, “He and I haven't spoken, and I disagree.”
Afterwards, Pence gleefully tweeted, “Congrats to my running mate @realDonaldTrump on a big debate win! Proud to stand with you as we #MAGA.”
The very next day, Pence attempted to put to rest reports he was about to bolt. “It's absolutely false to suggest that at any point in time we considered dropping off this ticket," Pence said on CNN. “I thought his apology on Friday night was appropriate. Donald Trump made it clear that those were only words. He hadn’t engaged in any of that behavior and I believe him.”
By Thursday morning, four women came forward to the New York Times, People Magazine and the Palm Beach Post detailing more groping incidents. A Bill Cosby/Bill Clinton pattern is now emerging. So Gov. Pence is likely to be shocked - shocked! - once again.
Trump’s Sunday night debate was a surreal event. In the gallery sat former President Bill Clinton, with a Mt. Rushmore of past extramarital sex partners Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Kathy Shelton nearby. Standing a few yards away was the glamorous Melania Trump, wearing a $1,300 Gucci fuchsia pussy-bow blouse, a fashion statement of defiance so subtle as to have gone unnoticed on North Meridian Street where Pence watched from the Indiana Governor’s Residence.
On top of all the sex, lies and videotape, there is the emerging story that the Russian regime of President Putin working in tandem with the Trump/Pence campaign in releasing hacked emails from the upper reaches of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. It’s kind of a 21st Century Watergate.
This juxtaposition of topics associated with the pious, sunny Indiana governor is evidence that we’re in the midst of an epic, bizarre and post-truth campaign. It has morphed beyond Paddy Chayefsky’s “Network” and George Miller’s “Mad Max” into something we cannot yet understand because the final chaotic chapters have yet to be played out and written. Even here in Indiana, WTHR/Howey Politics Poll and Monmouth polls show the Trump/Pence ticket leading by only 5 and 4%. Pence appeared in Fort Wayne on Sept. 30 with Eric Holcomb and Todd Young and 315 people showed up.
Pence, the author of “Confessions of a Negative Campaigner” now finds himself trolleying with a presidential nominee on the precipice of a down-and-dirty end game that will scorch the earth and the reputations of those who dare give it an imprimatur. It roils in an outright feud between Trump and Pence ally, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Trump biographers, Wayne Barrett, Gwenda Blair, Michael D’Antonio, Harry Hurt and Timothy O’Brien had ominous insight for Politico. This, they said, is not a show. It is not an act. Donald Trump is “profoundly narcissistic,” is “willing to go to lengths we’ve never seen before in order to satisfy his ego,” and “a very dangerous man for the next three or four weeks.”
Even the most sacred American value, that of a peaceful, harmonious transition of power between political enemies after an election, is now threatened as Trump repeatedly cites a “rigged” election. On Sunday in a gesture Putin would be proud of, Trump threatened to imprison his opponent.
A growing consensus among the pundit class is that while Trump threw out enough anti-Clinton red meat at Sunday night’s debate to keep his base intact, he did little to expand his appeal to independents and moderates. He has ushered in an outright civil war within the GOP, with USA Today reporting that 26 percent of Republican governors and members of Congress are refusing to endorse Trump, observing, “There is no precedent in modern American political history for elected officials of either party to refuse en masse to support their presidential nominee.”
Even Pence’s successor nominee, Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, is taking a nuanced approach. “It is my full intent to support the Republican nominee, but no one should ever take my vote for granted,” Holcomb said after expressing disgust over the Trump audio. “Over the coming 30 days, I’ll evaluate it each day as we go forward.”
So in the fourth month of Gov. Pence’s excellent adventure, we find him straddling the coming Republican cataclysm.
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Facebook and Twitter @ hwypol.