It looks like Donald Trump blinked.
After a 13-month battle with the Republican establishment in which he won most every skirmish, Trump appears to be acting responsibly, as his campaign confirmed the news that he’d chosen mild-mannered Indiana Governor Mike Pence to be his vice-presidential nominee. It was hard to believe that was Trump’s first choice. There had been lots of reporting that he wanted Newt Gingrich (why not, God, why not?) and, despite New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s legal baggage (plus Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner’s mortal grudge against Christie for sending his father to jail), it seemed like Trump found in Christie a kindred soul/bully as well. But he was by most accounts scheduled to introduce the white-haired establishment favorite, Mike Pence, at an event in Trump Tower on Friday.
Then came the horrific attack in Nice, France, and late Thursday Trump announced he would postpone his VP announcement, presumably out of respect for the victims. (By the way, the Tour de France went on.) Then he said he’d take the weekend to continue mulling his choice, before tweeting official confirmation of his selection on Friday morning. If this is how Donald Trump makes decisions in real time, he is not looking terribly presidential.
Putting aside the drama of the past 24 hours, it’s worth looking closely at Pence, because he tells us a few things, too—about what counts as “establishment” in today’s GOP.
If Trump thinks he’s getting a running mate who can appeal to the center and swing voters, he’s wrong about that. Pence is so far right when it comes to women’s and LGBT issues, he makes Trump look like a Democrat. Frankly, he’s a smooth-talking Todd Akin.
In Congress, Pence co-sponsored a bill that would have redefined rape and limited federal funding for abortion to women who suffered “forcible rape”—what Akin famously described as “legitimate rape” when he doomed his 2012 Senate bill. Pence is also the guy who began the GOP’s ugly and so far unsuccessful crusade to defund Planned Parenthood, back in 2007. “He’s the only one I know of who has been so completely obsessed with Planned Parenthood,” Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said back then. “This just seems to be an enormous focus of his.” Of course, Pence got more company in the Tea Party Congress of 2011, and that year he threatened to shut down the government over continued Planned Parenthood funding.