Indiana Gov. Mike Pence accepted the Republican Party’s vice presidential nomination Wednesday night, casting himself as a Midwestern everyman and staunch conservative. He made clear to voters why Donald Trump decided he could help turn out traditional GOP voters in key swing states.
Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisc., introduced him at the Republican National Commission in Cleveland by lavishing praise on Pence, calling him "a Reagan conservative through and through" and someone who is "pro-life and pro-strong defense."
He also said Pence, as a six-term House member before becoming his state’s chief executive, "led the charge to ban earmarks in Congress — and he won that fight." As governor, Pence passed "the largest income tax cut in state history" and "balanced his state’s budget,” Ryan said.
That message, and Pence’s self-description as a Christian, a conservative and a Republican — "in that order" — were squarely aimed at the conservative wing of the GOP. But in touting his record as a budget-cutter and surplus-creator, Pence and Ryan also were reaching out to undecided moderate voters who worry about the federal fiscal picture.
“We will win the hearts and minds of the American people with an agenda for a stronger and more prosperous America,” Pence declared, noting “there’s a lot of Americans out there who feel like Democrat politicians have taken them for granted.”
He made a plea to labor unions and mine workers, traditionally Democratic voters. He also told African-Americans and Hispanics that a President Trump would advocate for things beneficial to them.
“It will be our agenda that opens the doors for every American to prosper in this land,” Pence said.
Pence also showed off his ability to be an attack dog for Trump, calling presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the “secretary of the status quo.” He questioned her ability to choose federal and Supreme Court justices and said her record on foreign affairs “gets even worse.”
“The choice couldn’t be more clear,” Pence said. He suggested that Americans have a choice between a change agent and more of the same.
John Hudak of the Brookings Institution pointed to five major issues on which Pence helps Trump’s candidacy. He said that Pence is an “unquestionable conservative” with ample government experience who can help deliver his state to Trump. Hudak also noted Pence brings campaign expertise and is “light on the [personal] baggage.”
Pence appeared to reach out to Trump-skeptical Republicans and still-mulling moderates by touching on each issue:
Conservative creds: Much has been made about Trump’s need to convince the party’s conservative wing to hit the polls in big numbers on Election Day. By picking Pence, the GOP nominee sent a signal that he’s trying to build a bridge to that very camp.
“Pence’s time in Congress and as Governor of Indiana has been one in which he has carried the torch of conservatism fairly consistently. It is true for fiscal matters and social issues alike,” Hudak wrote.
Government chops: The billionaire business mogul boasts of his ability to run big companies. But managing the unwieldy federal bureaucracy is a completely different animal. Enter Mike Pence, the former six-term congressman and sitting governor.
“While Trump brings the private sector experience, it is Pence who delivers the public sector finesse,” as Hudak put it.
What’s more, Pence is a former House Foreign Affairs Committee member. That gives the ticket expertise that Trump lacks. Pence hit Clinton for her role in the Benghazi, Libya, attack, and charged her with helping orchestrate the fall of American influence and standing around the globe.
“Donald Trump will lead from strength,” Pence said. “Donald Trump will rebuild our military and stand with our allies.”
Campaign experience: Trump has bragged at length — and expressed the same shock as political experts — that his first race was for president, and that he cruised to his party’s nomination. Even at the convention, his status as a campaign novice has shown, with a plagiarism incident and an avoidable brawl with the host governor, John Kasich.
“He understands grassroots organization, campaign strategy, fundraising, campaign organization, messaging, advertising — all the things Trump himself lacks,” Hudak said. “Running for office is difficult and nothing makes it easier than experience — and experience winning.”
On this point, Pence spent virtually no time. He did engage in some self-deprecation, mentioning that his late father likely would have been surprised to see him accepting the GOP vice presidential nomination.
And he described his personal path to the stage as a long slog that started in a house “with a cornfield in the backyard.”
Swing states: With Indiana likely very much in play come November, the Trump campaign opted to select a running mate who could help deliver one of the handful of states that could decide the election.
“Indiana is seen as a competitive state in 2016. Obama won the state by about one percent in 2008 and lost it by over 10 percent in 2012,” Hudak said. Another area in which Pence and his home-state network could help: “Hillary Clinton has identified Indiana as a key state to target campaign resources toward.”
Pence’s message of a strong Trump-Pence national security approach and pledge to “squeeze every nickel out of the federal budget” should play well in the few battlefield states that matter.
No baggage: Trump is known as a one time Big Apple playboy who has bragged about his sex life to the likes of shock jock Howard Stern. Pence is still married to his first wife. That could help with social conservative and evangelical voters.
“For a ticket that badly needs the support of social conservatives, Bible Belt voters, and Americans with traditional values, Pence helps speak to those audiences as much with his stump speech as with his story,” Hudak said.
Pence lived up to that billing, talking fondly of his late father, and his mother, who was in attendance. Television cameras panned to his mother, wife and children.
And he flashed his humor, which should help the ticket’s likability. He joked about Trump’s charisma — and his lack of it.
“I guess he was looking for some balance on the ticket,” he said.