Earlier today, Donald Trump announced on Twitter that Mike Pence, Governor of Indiana, had been chosen as his vice presidential candidate. Pence, 57, is a deeply traditional choice, he’s a standard old-school Republican who hews more closely to the GOP’s ideology than Trump. Pence is religious and speaks often of his Christianity as a motivating force behind the controversial laws he’s signed during his tenure, including omnibus abortion bill HB 1337 and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a discriminatory bill that prompted numerous boycotts of the state.
The New York Times described Pence as:
[...] a cautious choice of running mate — a political partner who is unlikely to embarrass Mr. Trump, and who may help him shore up support among conservative voters still wary of his candidacy.
There’s no doubt that Pence is of the standard Republican issue variety: religious, anti-gay, pro-life, and pro-open trade. His tone and political ideologies seem to depart from Trump on more than a few issues. On social media, many were quick to point out where Pence clearly departs from Trump, including bans on Muslim immigration and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Trump has built his candidacy by presenting himself as the alternative to traditional Republican talking points; he’s religious when he needs to be (though terrible at even performing evangelical Christianity), vacillates on abortion, has little to no platform on LGTBQ rights, advocates protectionism and is anti-immigration. Where Trump is all empty anger, the Times described Pence as “low-key.”
Pence is popular with religious conservatives, in particular, anti-abortion advocates. It’s likely that Pence will bring the pro-life movement, who have felt alienated from and ignored by Trump, back into the fold. Prior to Trump’s official announcement, groups like Indiana Right to Life celebrated the rumors of Pence’s selection. “Governor Pence is devoted to protecting the unborn and their mothers,” Indiana Right to Life president said in a statement to the ultra-conservative Life News. “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.”
Pence is a bit of a darling among anti-choice groups. As a member of Congress, Pence sponsored a 2007 bill to defund Planned Parenthood, the first of its kind, the legislation set off a now nearly decade old congressional battle to defund the organization. Pence reintroduced the legislation multiple times until he left the House in 2011. “Let the abortion providers provide for themselves,” Pence told Politico in 2007. “I’d like to continue to be a persistent, respectful voice for the sanctity of life.”
It was a template and an indicator of how he would treat women’s health as governor of Indiana. As governor, Pence signed virtually every anti-choice bill that was put on his desk, including HB 1337, an omnibus abortion bill that a federal court blocked from taking effect in June of this year.
Pence described the law “a comprehensive pro-life measure that affirms the value of all human life.” In reality, it is a deeply invasive law lacking both empathy and reason (unsurprising, perhaps, from the state that jailed Purvi Patel). HB 1337 bans women from seeking abortions based on race, gender or fetal anomaly; it also mandates that women be required to bury or cremate the fetus post-termination. In addition, it required that abortion doctors have admitting privileges in order to practice, a restriction that the Supreme Court recently struck down in Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt.
The law was loudly and routinely condemned by pro-choice groups and though the Times might think of Pence as “low key,” women in Indiana certainly do not. After Pence signed HB 1337, a group calling themselves Periods for Pence, protested the invasive bill by calling and tweeting his office details of their menstrual cycles. In a statement, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said about Pence’s selection:
“The reason anyone in America could pick Mike Pence out of a one-man lineup is because of his long history of targeted political attacks against the care provided at Planned Parenthood health centers in Indiana and across the country.
Other than that, he doesn’t have a single distinguishing characteristic.”
In 2015, Pence also signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The controversial law prohibits the passage of state laws that “substantially burden” the religious beliefs of individuals. According to the Associated Press, the definition of an “individual” originally included churches and religious institutions, as well as businesses and other entities (RIP Memories Pizza who played themselves all the way to closing).
The law and its passage were a mess, LGBTQ activists argued that the bill would effectively allow business owners to discriminate and deny customers service if they were LGBTQ (or merely if the owner of the business perceived them to be). After numerous companies and organizations, including Angie’s List and the NCAA, announced that they would boycott the state, the Indiana legislature amended the bill, clarifying that it could not be used to discriminate against LGTBQ people.
Pence handled the passage of the bill poorly. He acknowledged that the bill was discriminatory, yet signed it anyway and, in the process, lost quite a bit of cash for Indiana businesses. If anything, the RFRA demonstrated the tensions between the pro-business and “pro-family” ideologies that underpin GOP ideology.
Ostensibly Trump’s selection of Pence is meant to appeal to the evangelical “pro-family” base of the Republican party, of which Pence is a member. Certainly, Pence has a long history of sponsoring and signing bills that appeal to that demographic, no matter how prejudicial, unconstitutional or invasive they might be. In short, he’s the perfect VP selection for a campaign built on those very things.
Update: Jezebel reached out to Periods for Pence to find out what’s next for them. In an email, they said they will “move forward” with assistance from “Tampons for Trump.” “We will be contacting Mr. Trump’s HQ to check in with our menstrual cycles and any reproductive questions we may have, since choosing Mike Pence automatically means he is extremely interested in this as well. I’m really looking forward to receiving gynecological advice from Donald Trump since he must be such an authority as well. It’s great to have the best of the best paying such close attention to my ‘lady needs.’”
Image via AP.