If the Republican nominee for president is going to come from the ranks of current or former governors, the GOP could do worse than choose former chairman of the House Republican Conference and current governor of Indiana Mike Pence.
Pence is the kind of candidate who just might be able to act as a bridge between the warring conservative factions. His conservative voting record as a House member is nearly impeccable: no to No Child Left Behind and the prescription drug biil; no to the bank bailout; and a budget hawk who was calling for big cuts in spending before it became popular to do so on Capitol Hill.
On the other hand, he has governed Indiana via compromise and pragmatism — two traits that don’t sit well with much of the GOP base. As James Antle III writes in the American Conservative, those qualities of governance have led to several problematic decisions by Pence:
With great fanfare, Pence signed legislation pulling Indiana out of Common Core, making it the first state to junk the controversial education standards many Tea Party conservatives see as a precursor to a national curriculum. “I believe education is a state and local function,” he said. He then embraced new academic standards that were panned as “warmed over” Common Core.
Hoosiers Against Common Core describes Pence’s standards as “re-branding Common Core” and the bill he signed back in March as “a ruse to fool Common Core opponents.” The group says on its website, “The legislation gave the appearance of voiding the Common Core while the Indiana Department of Education and the Center for Education and Career Innovation walked it through the backdoor.”
Then Pence announced he would accept the federal funds that come with Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. But he vowed to seek a waiver that would allow him to pursue Medicaid reforms based on former Gov. Mitch Daniels’s Healthy Indiana Plan rather than the traditional Medicaid plan.
“Reforming traditional Medicaid through this kind of market-based, consumer-driven approach is essential to creating better health outcomes and curbing the dramatic growth in Medicaid spending,” the governor said.
Some conservatives see this too as sleight of hand. One complained to the Indianapolis Star it was “merely the latest iteration of full Obamacare Medicaid expansion thinly disguised as a conservative entitlement reform.” Other critics wrote at Forbes, “Gov. Pence has tried to cover his ObamaCare expansion plan with the veneer of the Healthy Indiana Plan begun by Mitch Daniels.”
Those who have followed Pence since he was in Congress may remember a third instance where he tried to split the baby on a contentious issue. In May 2006, as House Republicans stood against an immigration plan hatched by Bush, John McCain, and Ted Kennedy, Pence gave a speech to the Heritage Foundation in which he outlined “a rational middle ground” between “amnesty and mass deportation.”
Pence’s proposal was an ambitious guest-worker program that essentially privatized a large part of immigration enforcement. “Private worker placement agencies that we could call ‘Ellis Island Centers’ will be licensed by the federal government to match willing guest workers with jobs in America that employers cannot fill with American workers,” he said.
Pence’s immigration reform proposal never went anywhere, with some conservatives calling it “backdoor amnesty.” So what happened to the Tea Party favorite and conservative lion who served in Congress? I’ll explain on the next page.
Governors are faced with the prospect of not only talking a good game, but actually getting things done. As one of 435 House members, Pence could afford to stake out positions on the issues that were strong and uncompromising.
But an executive can’t afford to take the kinds of stands that a House member or even a senator can hold to if he wants to be successful. Accepting Medicaid expansion may appear on the surface to be a betrayal, but the several billion dollars dangled in front of Pence and other GOP governors will help tens of thousands of their citizens. It’s what makes Pence an attractive candidate to some: his willingness to eschew ideology in favor of practical governance.
Pence would be one of the longer long shots if he runs. But if he does, he should be taken seriously as someone with the experience and temperament to be a successful president.