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Beware of Mike Pence

In January of this year, I met Vice President Mike Pence and behaved like the woman my mother would have wanted me to be.

She was a lifelong, working-class Democrat, a Christian who was pro-choice and pro-LGBTQ when it wasn’t easy to be so in the Midwest. She’s been gone 20 years, but as I shook Pence’s hand and made small talk, I thought about her. “Represent,” Mom always said. “Don’t give them any reason to disrespect the people you come from.”

I was surrounded by six of our seven young grandchildren, along with other family members. We were in Washington, D.C., for the third swearing-in ceremony of my husband, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. It is customary to reenact that momentous occasion by later posing for a family photo with the vice president.

As a columnist, I had been, and continue to be, publicly critical of Pence. Sherrod has been equally outspoken. To put it more succinctly: We abhor what he stands for, and what he is trying to do to this country.

But on that day, in that moment, Sherrod was a part of history; I was his proud wife. We were also grandparents tending to the well-being of all those little children we love. They didn’t need to see us having it out with the man with white hair who had just confessed aloud his envy over the likes of them.

I did, however, wear my lapel pin, “America Needs Journalists.” There’s only so much you can ask of me, Mom.

I’m telling you this story because of another story I read this week in Politico, in which Pence was depicted as the would-be savior of Trump’s reelection as he hoodwinks entire swaths of witless Americans falling for his act of the benign uncle.

From Politico: “For Pence to be an effective surrogate in 2020, campaign officials say his reputation must be preserved. If the goal is to build a winning coalition that includes seniors, suburban women and swing-state residents suffering from Trump fatigue, someone has to be the nice guy.”

Let’s talk about this “nice guy.”

In August 2018, I reviewed for The Washington Post a book about Pence by journalists Michael D’Antonio and Peter Eisner. Their in-depth reporting for “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence” led them to conclude that Pence is the most prominent “Christian supremacist” in the country.

Now why, you might wonder, would a self-avowed Christian hitch his legacy to Trump, a racist, self-proclaimed sexual predator? Or, as the authors describe Trump, “a man whose immorality in the form of lying, cheating, and deceiving in every aspect of his life, from his marriage to his businesses, had made him a living exemplar of everything that Christianity and conservatism abhorred.”

The shorthand version of the Word according to Pence: God did it. Or, to paraphrase the popular adage: Man plans; God gives up on everybody.

In Pence’s world, Trump is just a temporary boulder dropped by God onto the road to a Pence presidency. Pence may present himself “as a deeply moral man,” the authors write, but “his record indicates both a ruthlessness and a comfort with aggression that belie this pose.”

As I’ve offered before, a snapshot of that record:

As a radio show host, Pence defended presidential candidate Pat Buchanan as “four square in the mainstream.” At the same time, William F. Buckley was denouncing Buchanan as an extremist who questioned the historical record of the Holocaust.

As governor of Indiana, Pence refused to pardon a black man whom everyone, including the parole board and the prosecutor, agreed had served nearly a decade in prison for a crime he did not commit. He also ignored a lead-contamination crisis of Flint-like proportions in the poor, mostly black city of East Chicago.

Pence also signed the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, so that business owners who don’t like same-sex couples — that includes Pence, who said same-sex marriage could cause “societal collapse” — to legally deny them services. The backlash was so fast and fierce — and potentially damaging to Indiana’s economy — that Pence signed a revised version of the law.

In 2016, right before he became the enabler-in-chief for candidate Trump, Pence signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. As NPR reported at the time, the law banned “abortions due to fetal abnormalities and also requires aborted fetuses — and those from miscarriage — to be buried or cremated.”

What a nice guy.

In that same Politico story, a former Pence aide was quoted as saying Pence’s “folksy Midwestern charm disarmed suburban women who openly admitted to cringing at the thought of their children behaving like Trump.”

There is nothing folksy or charming about a man who wields God as a weapon to harm others, and uses his faith as an excuse to remain silent while head-bobbing next to the most dangerous president in U.S. history.

In January, Pence was nice to me, and to my family. That didn’t, even for a minute, blind me to his hatred for large swaths of this country.

I do hope those clever sycophants keep whispering in his ear. As a woman in the Midwest, I love it when right-wingers underestimate us.

——

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist

and professional in residence at Kent State

University’s school of journalism.

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