For the past 20 years, Dr. Matthew E. Bunson has been active in the area of Catholic social communications and education, including writing, editing, and teaching on a variety of topics related to Church history, the papacy, the saints and Catholic culture. He is faculty chair at Catholic Distance University, a senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, and the author or co-author of over 50 books including: The Encyclopedia of Catholic History, The Pope Encyclopedia, We Have a Pope! Benedict XVI, The Saints Encyclopedia and best-selling biographies of St. Damien of Molokai and St. Kateri Tekakwitha.
The third days of major political conventions are typically dedicated to advancing the party’s agenda with a speech by the vice presidential pick to reassure voters that the line of succession is safe should something unfortunate happen to the nominee. Vice Presidential candidates traditionally have been chosen to shore up political alliances, help secure voter groups and improve the election prospects in crucial states. In 1960, Democratic nominee John F. Kennedy chose Texas political giant Lyndon Johnson to help with Southern voters and provide muscle on Capitol Hill. In 2008, Senator Barack Obama chose Senator Joe Biden from Delaware because the long-serving politician gave assurance that the junior Senator from Illinois had a seasoned vice president supporting him.
Donald Trump had a very large pool of choices for his running mate. He could have gone with someone as unconventional as he is, or with one of his defeated rivals. He went instead with a conventional Midwestern governor, the 57-year-old Mike Pence of Indiana.
The Pence pick makes sense for a number of political and cultural reasons. And the success of the choice, at least among Republicans, was palpable on the Quicken Arena floor on the third night of the convention where the crowd, already riled up by Sen. Ted Cruz’s non-endorsement endorsement, exploded with a near kind of relief that Pence had done so well.
Politically, Trump brings on to the ticket a genuinely seasoned insider with experience both in the Capitol and the statehouse. He served from 2001 to 2013 as representative of Indiana's 2nd Congressional district and Indiana's 6th Congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. While in Congress, he served as chairman of the House Republican Conference from 2009 to 2011. That means that as a prospective Vice President he could serve as a helpful bridge builder between Trump and a Republican caucus that still has considerable doubts about the nominee and the priorities of a possible Trump administration.
As Governor of Indiana since 2013, Pence has become popular among other conservative governors who share his many concerns about the economy, taxation, life issues and education. As with Congress, Pence could be a good conduit for a Trump Administration to deal with independent-minded governors.
Knowledge and relationships in Washington, D.C. are essential, and Pence has friendships with the constituencies that are both leery of Trump and also vital for his election in November.
Speaking of the groups that have held Trump in suspicion, Pence is a conservative and has been a long supporter of the Tea Party movement. Even more critically, he has impeccable pro-life credentials. Indiana Right to Life President Mike Fichter said of Pence:
Gov. Pence is devoted to protecting the unborn and their mothers. Gov. Pence’s pro-life stance is more than a talking point; Gov. Pence has put his pro-life position into action time and time again. Indiana is a better state for the unborn and their mothers because of the Governor’s pro-life leadership. Even before becoming the state’s top executive, Gov. Pence demonstrated his willingness to fight for the protection of life in a meaningful way. In Congress, Pence led the effort to defund the nation’s largest abortion business, Planned Parenthood. Since becoming governor, Gov. Pence has advanced the pro-life cause through legislation and his administration. Under Gov. Pence, there are four fewer abortion facilities. The state abortion rate has been steadily declining every year. The state is enforcing health regulations that protect women’s health, and abortion doctors know they don’t have a free pass.
Delegates, respected voices in the party and especially party leaders have all greeted the Pence pick very warmly. North Carolina Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, vice chair of the committee that drafted the platform for the party, called Pence “a seasoned elected official…a strong conservative. He is very well-spoken. He has a consistent philosophy and knows how to present his philosophy in a way that other people can understand.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), a national pro-life group, added, “Governor Pence lends authenticity to the ticket. He re-ups those pro-life commitments that Trump has made; he makes them concrete and real. He brings experience in fighting for the core issues that we care about, and he is a man of great discernment…Knowing him as well as I do, it gives me great encouragement, and I am even more motivated than I ever was before.”
The GOP platform did much to ease the worries of pro-life advocates and to promise the conservative movement that Trump is listening to them. Should Trump actually win the White House, the platform will be there for them to put in front of Trump every time major issues emerge. And now they have in Pence a man they trust to be utterly in agreement with the party’s key political statement. In a word, Pence was expected by the Trump campaign to create a sense of unity that was hard to find when the delegates arrived in Cleveland last weekend. Tonight, Pence was tasked with sealing that deal with a warm authenticity and to reassure Americans at large that there is a stable and capable bottom half of the ticket.
The third night of the RNC began with fireworks over Ted Cruz refusing to endorse Donald Trump. It ended with Mike Pence possibly saving the tenuously-held unity of the party.
Pence does not strike people as an exciting or unusual political figure. He joked about that in his speech. In a convention marked by an appearance by Trump every night, we should have expected nothing less. Pence will never overshadow the man at the top of the ticket. Being boring but authentic, in this case, can be very good qualities to have as he calms jittery voters and pulls the party together—while still allowing Trump to be Trump.
Tomorrow we will all discover whether that is enough to launch a serious bid to win them the White House.