The Pence pick: Like the Bush pick, but very different

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CLEVELAND, OHIO – Reagan picked Bush. Trump picked Pence.

The two choices were made for the same reason, but it’s the difference between Reagan/Bush and Trump/Pence that exposes the huge shift that has occurred in the Republican Party.

Reagan picked Bush to placate the GOP Establishment, to give the establishmentarians a stake in the ticket’s success, and to unite the two big wings of the party: the Country Clubbers, whom we’d today call RINOs, and the conservative movement.

Trump picked Pence to placate the conservative movement, to give ideological conservatives a stake in the ticket’s success, and to unite the two big wings of the party: the conservative movement and the working class/small business class grassroots populists who flooded into primaries to vote for Trump.

A little history:

In 1964, Barry Goldwater was the choice for president of the conservative movement, then in its infancy. Goldwater beat the party establishment (the to-be RINOs*) to get the nomination. But the party establishment got its revenge. The ur-RINOs declared themselves implacably opposed to Goldwater and everything he stood for. You might say they were NeverGolderwaterers. They made sure—they thought they made sure—that the Goldwater movement would come to an end when Barry Goldwater lost. They trashed Goldwater at every opportunity and produced countless anti-Goldwater quotes that were used with glee by President Johnson’s campaign.

Ronald Reagan, whose national political debut was a TV speech for Goldwater ’64, was elected governor of California in 1966. By 1976, he was the political leader of the conservative movement. That year, he challenged President Ford in the GOP primaries, coming within a few convention votes of unseating Ford. Many of Ford’s backers were conservatives but RINOs—that is, they believed in conservative ideas, but accepted the premises of the Left and the Democrats, such as the idea that no conservative could ever be elected president. Reagan’s nomination, they said with one voice, would be a catastrophic, perhaps party-ending disaster for the GOP.

In 1980, Reagan won the Republican nomination, but faced the prospect of being Goldwaterized, of being destroyed by the members of his own party. In order to get the support or at least the acquiescence of the NeverReaganers, he had to get them invested in his candidacy. They had to believe that the GOP would somehow survive the Reagan presidency and that Reagan would be followed as GOP standard-bearer or as president by one of their own.

Reagan’s choice for an Establishment running mate came down to Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker, former President Gerald Ford, and former UN Ambassador/GOP Chairman George H.W. Bush.

Movement conservatives targeted Baker to knock him out of contention, an effort that included a Baker-in-a-dunce-cap cover story in the movement’s flagship magazine, Conservative Digest (where, later, I would be senior editor). CD publisher Richard Viguerie and I wrote later in the Washington Post:

In 1980, when Conservative Digest surveyed 25 conservative leaders for their views on the selection of Reagan’s running-mate, his name stirred up the most opposition — even more than that of George Bush, who at the time was Reagan’s principal opponent. As one top Reagan aide explained, “There’s no doubt that the unified, outspoken opposition by conservatives to Baker did severe damage to the possibility of his becoming the vice presidential choice.”

Appearing on “Face the Nation” shortly before the 1980 GOP convention, Baker acknowledged the opposition to his nomination: “I am not a candidate for vice president . . . . Frankly, I think that it would be far too inconvenient for Gov. Reagan to choose me,” because it would stir up conservative opposition. Asked if he meant that, if he were Reagan, he would not pick Howard Baker as his running mate, Baker replied, “Yeah, I’m saying that.”

At the GOP convention where Reagan was renominated four years later, David Broder of The Washington Post asked Baker if he could “imagine the people in that hall making you their nominee in four years.”

“Either they’ll have to change or I will. And I’m too old to change,” Baker said.

After all, this is the same Howard Baker who said that the GOP should be “ideologically sterile” and that it “ought not to have a separate, identifiable philosophy. It shouldn’t stand for a principle.”

With Baker out of contention, the Reagan campaign turned to Ford and opened serious negotiations. But Ford—with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Reagan’s foreign-policy nemesis, by his side—insisted on control of foreign policy. Heaven forbid that foreign policy fall into the hands of the madman Reagan! (As a Ford/Bush aide once put it, “If Reagan were nominated, it would be the end of the Republican Party. If Reagan were elected, it would be the end of the world.”)

Mid-negotiation, Ford suggested to CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite that he would be co-president with Reagan. That was meant to be reassuring. It ended the negotiations, and Reagan turned to Bush. (Rumors that Ford had been chosen broke out on the convention floor. I saw Bush delegates using markers to turn their Reagan/Bush signs into Reagan/Ford signs. Finally, to set things straight, Reagan made an impromptu appearance at the podium to announce his selection of Bush.)

Picking Bush brought the ur-RINOs into the Reagan camp or, at least, kept them from destroying Reagan as they had helped destroy Goldwater. The Bush selection had unfortunate consequences in the years to come, but it got the job done in terms of getting the Reagan ticket elected.

Now, Trump picks Pence. It was not, in my view, the best choice. That would be Newt Gingrich (disclosure: for whom I was senior researcher in the 2012 campaign). But, based on the Reagan/Bush model, it makes sense. It brings into the Trump campaign a critical, relatively well-organized constituency: traditionalist conservatives allied with the Tea Party movement. Roughly, the Ted Cruz people.

Pence opposed the Wall Street bailout and was the only member of the GOP leadership in Congress who spoke at the 2010 Tea Party rally. And he endorsed Cruz in 2016, while (weirdly, it seemed at the time—ha!) going out of his way to praise Trump.

Thus, Reagan in 1980 and Trump in 2016 each reached out to the other side of the party. What’s changed is what constitutes the other side of the party. Then, it was movement conservatives reaching out to the Establishment. Now, it’s grassroots populists, including the less-traditionalist Tea Partiers, reaching out to movement conservatives and to the more-traditionalist Tea Partiers.

That’s all the difference in the world, and suggests that 2016 could realign politics in a way few people expected.

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You don’t hear much about the Tea Party movement these days. That’s because, to a degree almost unimaginable, it has won, or is on its way toward winning—at least, within the Republican Party.

The Obama administration, through its utterly corrupt Internal Revenue Service, tried to crush the Tea Party movement. (Keep in mind that Richard Nixon, had he not resigned, would have been removed from office for merely attempting to do this to his adversaries.) The major news media, which are racist, xenophobic, and ignorant—stereotypically, 27-year-olds who know nothing—tried to crush the Tea Party movement by smearing it as racist, xenophobic, and ignorant.

In effect, the Trump-Pence ticket unites, as the two wings of the Republican Party, the two wings of the Tea Party movement. What’s left of the party’s Country Club wing, including its corporate sponsors, is largely boycotting the convention.

Yes, that means that, if Trump/Pence wins, the Tea Party wins. It would be a major shift in American politics, one that would leave many of the RINOs nowhere to go…

Except to Hillary, who, you’ll recall, backed the Iraq War and the Wall Street bailout and used her office as secretary of state, and the Clinton Foundation, and “speaking engagements” (ha!) to make herself into one of the super-rich.

The Obama administration has spent the past seven and a half years seeking to install a new caste system, one with working class people and small business class people at the bottom, toiling to support a coalition made up of privileged elites and of people who vote, rather than work, for a living. This has happened as Republican leaders stood by, clueless. Now, the two parties may be on the verge of realignment, of the sort of tectonic shift that causes earthquakes.

 

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* As I’ve noted in the past, a RINO is not really a “Republican In Name Only,” the source of the acronym.

Many RINOs have a much more valid claim to the label “Republican” than, say, your typical factory worker for Trump, or even Trump himself. Indeed, some RINOs come from families of Republican activists going back to Frémont. The term “RINO,” like “homophobe” or “telephone dial,” has taken on a meaning beyond its literal sense.

A RINO, by the way, is not a Republican who’s a liberal or moderate. A RINO is a Republican who tends to accept the premises of the Democrats or the Left, or who simply won’t fight. Thus, John Boehner, who’s a conservative, is a RINO, but Rudy Giuliani, who’s a moderate, is assuredly not.

 

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