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Eye On Candidates
August 29, 2016

What Happened to Mike Pence?

Vice presidential nominees should, by the nature of the office sought, expect to spend much of their time out of the spotlight. But National Journal's Josh Krashaaur suggests in an article this morning that the Republican nominee for vice president is being overshadowed even more than usual this time around:

What Happened to Mike Pence?

Ever since Pence was tapped to be Trump’s No. 2, he’s been over­shad­owed. The most re­cent in­dig­nity oc­curred this week when Pence re­ceived a hair­cut at a black-owned barber­shop near Phil­adelphia, and the barber ini­tially didn’t know who he was. On the night he took cen­ter stage at the GOP con­ven­tion, Sen. Ted Cruz pree­mp­ted Pence by re­fus­ing to en­dorse Trump that same night. Even Trump chose to un­veil his new run­ning mate on a sleepy Sat­urday af­ter­noon, devoid of the pa­geantry that most can­did­ates util­ize when they make their vice-pres­id­en­tial pick.

Na­tion­al polling con­firms just how an­onym­ous Pence still is. After the con­ven­tion, an NBC/Wall Street Journ­al poll found one-quarter of Amer­ic­ans still didn’t know much about him, and an­oth­er 28 per­cent had neither pos­it­ive nor neg­at­ive feel­ings to­wards him. Most par­ti­cipants at a Wis­con­sin fo­cus group con­duc­ted this week couldn’t even come up with a word to de­scribe Pence. (To be sure, Sen. Tim Kaine has also struggled to re­gister in na­tion­al polling, and didn’t eli­cit strong feel­ings in the afore­men­tioned fo­cus group.)

For all his an­onym­ity, Pence’s fu­ture path in polit­ics will tell us a lot about the long-term dir­ec­tion of the Re­pub­lic­an Party. If Trump loses, will the GOP es­tab­lish­ment try to purge those who chose to fall in line with Trump re­gard­less of his be­ha­vi­or? Or will Pence be seen as someone who can uniquely bridge the di­vide between the party’s war­ring fac­tions? If Trump is truly seen as a blight on the Re­pub­lic­an Party, it’s hard to see how Pence has much of a polit­ic­al fu­ture. But if Re­pub­lic­ans be­lieve they need to pla­cate Trump’s sup­port­ers while also keep­ing the party’s tra­di­tion­al rank-and-file in the fold, Pence could be one of the few re­main­ing Re­pub­lic­ans who can thread that needle.

If the Trump campaign crashes and burns on election day, as many think possible or even likely, Pence may be grateful to not be strongly associated with the failure. But as Kraushaar points out, plenty of people in Republican politics will remember, and that could prove either blessing in disguise or an unshakeable albatross.