Gov. Mike Pence has left the building, telling the Hoosier Boy Scouts on Monday in his “last major address” to “be prepared.”
And Vice President-elect Pence has arrived as an emerging national power center. On the 2016 Howey Politics Indiana Power 50 list, Pence ranked third, low for a governor. And on the Forbes Most Powerful People list released on Wednesday, Pence stood at 69, high for a vice president .
What we’re watching is the emergence of Mike Pence in his rightful sandbox. Perhaps the most ambitious Hoosier in a generation, his decision to run for governor in 2012 was all about resume building to prepare for national office. As governor, you could see Pence systemically checking off the boxes on behalf of a national portfolio. He pushed for the income tax cut in 2013. He pulled out of Common Core. He signed social legislation designed to curry favor with the evangelicals and pro-life activists. He went a bridge too far with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, where his communication skills suffered a temporary lapse.
As Pence’s political standing slipped, we were getting consistent feedback at the agency head level of a lack of direction, a chafing over budget reversions for the sake of a $2 billion surplus that were leaving state functions threadbare (something the Eric Holcomb transition team is hearing loud and clear this month), and fear over what was a shaky, ominous reelection bid.
Our final observation on the 2016 Power 50 List: “With polls showing his reelect in the upper 30s to low 40s, he faces an arduous campaign, with many elements, including who will head the GOP national ticket, well beyond his control.”
So que up Alanis Morissette and her 1995 song “Ironic.”
On the Forbes’ World Most Powerful People list, there is Pence at No. 69, with the observation, “The next president of the United States is the current governor of Indiana, a darling of conservative evangelicals, and potentially the most powerful VP in U.S. history. When President-elect Trump’s staff were interviewing prospective running mates in the spring of 2016, they reportedly told one candidate the new vice president would be in charge of ‘domestic and foreign policy,’ leaving the president free to concentrate on ‘making America great again.’ Trump’s camp denied the reports, but now that the transition to a Trump administration is under way, Pence already appears to be picking up traditionally presidential responsibilities, including receiving daily briefings from the U.S. intelligence community.”
As the Trump cabinet unfolds, there is a significant rightward bent and it has Pence’s fingerprints and world view all over it, even though he wasn’t able to land a Hoosier into the exclusive club. It belies the president-elect who didn’t seem to have an ideological station, flitting from position to position. It is filled with climate change skeptics, coal revisionists, an energy secretary who once advocated his agency be eliminated, advocates of school vouchers, and opponents of increased minimum wage. It came with Pence wresting the transition team helm away from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. So clearly, Pence is not taking a free ride when he’s already paid, or suffering from the good advice he just didn’t take.
The epic parlor game at hand is how will Donald Trump govern? Is he bat crap crazy? Or crazy like a fox? Is he winging it? Or does he truly have a master strategy that only he and his magnificent brain truly understand? Is he a Reagan macro guy, or a Carter micro stiff? Will Pence be pulling the levers of “domestic and foreign policy? What else is left for President Trump, NASA and more Carrier deals?
In Trump, we find a man addicted to his Twitter account despite the political cost. He will continue as an executive producer of “The Apprentice.” He watches “the shows” and doesn’t read books. He’s not only uninterested in the intel briefings that you’d think a fledgling president would consume with a voracious appetite, but he’s declared war on the intelligence establishment that could sink his presidency with leaks and a thousand cuts.
We see a man who would rather inhabit Trump Tower despite the 50,000 or so windows within the scope range than the White House. Asked about whether he’d serve a full term last July, Trump’s answer a week before he picked Pence was a startling, “I’ll let you know how I feel about it after it happens.”
This is what we now know about Vice President-elect Pence. This is a man who played his political cards adroitly. Pence raced toward a power vacuum when others fled in the opposite direction. While dozens of heavyweight Republicans told the Trump veep searches to bug off, Pence not only came to the table, he retrieved the prize as Trump wavered.
This is an ambitious man who looks in the mirror and sees a future addressee at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Given the curious and sensational set of circumstances we stare at in utter amazement with 2016 on the wane, perhaps this could be a reality sooner than you might think.
Be prepared. As I’ve been saying all year, anything can happen. Anything. In fact, it already has.