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Opening Arguments

Which Mike?

Indianapolis Monthly has an in-dept look at Mike Pence's politics and the gubernatorial campaign he waged. It has this not-terribly-original observation:


But here’s the thing: One can make a strong case that Mike Pence veers just as far to the right as Richard Mourdock. One of Pence’s many slogans is that he’s “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order”—and there’s no doubt that he loves his family, his state, and his God. “So many politicians live one life in public and one life in private,” says Mike Murphy, a former state representative. “But one thing I can tell you about Mike is that he’s the same in both worlds. There’s no contradiction.”

Where there is a contradiction, however, is between Pence’s past and the campaign he just ran for governor. As a powerful congressman (and in his personal life before that), Pence took vocal conservative stands on just about every issue: foreign policy, fiscal policy, social matters, and more. During the gubernatorial race, however, he stuck to the bland, statistics-driven plan he called his Roadmap for Indiana. Pence sounded more like an accountant than an ideologue, and it contrasted sharply with the bold and inflexible beliefs he’s held throughout his career. Now, as he assumes office this month, Pence can already count his first major accomplishment as governor—convincing voters that he is something he’s not.

So did Pence’s gubernatorial campaign provide a sneak peek at his flexible, pragmatic side? Or will he revert to the rigid and principled nature he demonstrated in Congress? No one I talked to was quite sure. “I’m surprised by his avoidance of social issues,” one former Pence staffer told me. “It seems much more calculating than I thought he was or could be.” Pence’s Roadmap doesn’t provide much help, either. It includes some admirable ideas (Goal 5 is “Improving the quality of the Hoosier workforce”—the stuff about vocational education fits under here). But it doesn’t include four full years’ worth of work. Then there are Pence’s presidential ambitions. It’s no secret that he chose running for governor over running for president, and between his congressional record and his skills as a communicator, Pence has already cropped up on several 2016 short lists.

My guess, for what it's worth, is that we'll see more of the pragmatic Pence than the social-issues Pence. Social issues are about what some people think should be done. Running a state government involves mostly things that have to be done. Pence's conservatism will most likely show up in the legislative initiatives he goes along with --the  gay marriage ban, for example -- rather than the proposals he actively pushes himself.