Mike Pence has no shame. That was established by his decision to quit a campaign for reelection as governor of Indiana and jump into the passenger seat of Donald Trump’s clown car. But the Republican achieved a new level of shamelessness in a vice-presidential debate where he grumbled about Democrat Tim Kaine’s “avalanche of insults” after the senator from Virginia reviewed a litany of Trump’s insulting comments about women, federal jurists, American prisoners of war. When Kaine pressed his point on Trump’s racism and xenophobia, Pence twisted the scenario once more, griping, “Senator, you whipped out that Mexican thing again.”
Pence did it all with a straight face, which some might suggest was Orwellian. In fact, it was Nixonian. Richard Nixon’s great skill as a campaigner was his ability to look into a television camera and make statements that he knew to be false. But Nixon had a measure of shame. He would sweat; he would stumble in his delivery; his eyes would go a little wild.
Not Pence. He is calm and deliberate when mouthing absolute falsehoods. Just watch the Republican vice-presidential nominee deny that Donald Trump said things that Donald Trump is famous for saying. Just watch the Republican vice presidential nominee deny Mike Pence said things that Mike Pence is famous for saying.
That earned the Republican contender high marks from feckless pundits who imagine that shamelessness is a mark of political agility. But that should also unsettle Americans who remember the past and fear for the future. Pence is so much more Nixonian than Nixon.
And nowhere was that more evident than when Pence uttered the most cynical line of a debate that was thick with cynicism. Early on in Tuesday night’s session, after Pence had danced his way around a number of straightforward questions regarding Trump’s misstatements and misdeeds, Kaine tried to force open a discussion about the maybe-not-a-billionaire’s shadowy financial arrangement. Referring to Pence, Kaine said, “I am interested to hear whether he’ll defend his running mate’s not releasing taxes and not paying taxes.”
“Absolutely I will,” responded Pence, even as he absolutely did not answer the most basic questions about Trump’s lack of transparency.
Moderator Elaine Quijano pressed Pence: “Governor, with all due respect, the question was about whether it seems fair to you that Mr. Trump said he brilliantly used the laws to pay as little tax as legally possible.” Pence’s reply was more shamelessly disingenuous than anything Nixon would have dared.
“Well,” began Pence, “this is probably the difference between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and Senator Kaine. And, I mean, Hillary Clinton and Senator Kaine—God bless you for it, career public servants, that’s great—Donald Trump is a businessman, not a career politician. He actually built a business.”