Conservatives looking for a standard-bearer for the 2016 election should start looking at Mike Pence, current Governor of Indiana (full disclosure: I live in Indiana, and he’s my governor.)
Though he often operates nationally under the radar, if you have ever seen him speak at a national event, you will have seen him give some of the most powerful stem-winders you could hope for. As an unapologetic conservative, he stands for the three-legged stool of Reagan Republicanism—strong defense, traditional values, and free enterprise. Moreover, both as Congressman and Governor, he has walked the walk legislatively and sat in the executive chair.
If you want someone practiced at the art of speaking, look no further. Pence was a political talk show host, so he is quick on his feet, answers questions completely, and argues his positions in a powerful, yet affable way. As an evangelical, Pence is a staunch advocate for traditional family values, and as the former head of a conservative think-tank, he can outdo Rick Santorum when it comes to marshaling the data to back it all up.
If you are looking for someone who knows his way around Congress, again Pence fills the bill. A decade in the House of Representatives has taught him how the game is played, what the rules are, and what the universe of possibilities is, procedurally and politically. In 2006, he challenged John Boehner for the position of (then) Minority Leader and lost. In 2008, he became the Republican Conference Chair. He also spent two years as the head of the Republican Study Committee, back when it was actually conservative.
Having been in Washington, Pence—like Palin and Cruz—nevertheless does not seem like an establishment politician. He seems in the party, but not of it. As Reagan stood, comfortable in his own skin, never wavering from what he knew to be right, unconcerned with what the leadership of the party thought of him, so stands Mike Pence. Staunch without being strident, committed without seeming crazy, effective without being an egomaniac, Pence is exactly what the Republican Party needs to present as a candidate, if they want to keep the base and attract the new voters we need to take the White House in 2016.
There are two issues that could prove to be a problem: Common Core and Medicaid Expansion. Mike Pence was the first governor to reject Common Core, but there are those who now say what he replaced it with is merely Common Core by another name. In fact, the new guidelines are reinforcements of Indiana’s earlier, superior standards that were in place before the existence of Common Core.
Medicaid Expansion is an even more complex story. Since Governor Mitch Daniels brought it into being, Indiana has run its own insurance program for the poor, which is market-based and requires nominal investment by the clients themselves. The Healthy Indiana Plan was unique in that it featured HSA-style accounts and required nominal payments by participants. Pence has taken the Medicaid expansion money, added voluntary funding from the hospitals to it, and kept the HIP largely intact. Pence went to the White House to tell Obama he wouldn’t expand Medicaid Obama’s way, only the Indiana way. In January, he rolled out HIP 2.0, which seems to do just that.
As the Obama debacle comes to an end, voters can see light at the end of the tunnel. They realize they made a terrible mistake falling for the charismatic, yet inexperienced silver-tongued devil, and now they will be looking for some grown-ups to take the country back. Clinton, Warren, and Biden are, how shall I put this—a little too “grown up”. Hillary Clinton was working on McGovern’s presidential campaign five years before Pence graduated from high school. Before Pence finished college, Elizabeth Warren had two children and was on her second husband. And let’s not forget that Biden was a Senator before Mike Pence entered High School.
In his silver-haired fifties, Pence looks designed for the back of a coin. Yet there’s nothing artificial or concocted about him. He doesn’t have the self-important air that most lawyers give off, probably because he hasn’t been one in a while. Although he doesn’t have the completely unassuming style of former Governor Mitch Daniels, who campaigned across the state in an RV, he still radiates the kind of down-home populism that just screams “real deal”.
If you are sick to death of the “I, me, my” cadence we’ve become numb to under the pathological narcissist currently in the White House, Mike Pence provides an antidote to the self-absorbed, self-important selfie culture that has poisoned the Oval Office for the last six years. Decidedly a man of the people, he sprinkles every State of the State address with accolades for the greatness of Hoosiers themselves, never taking personal credit for the things that have been accomplished on his watch. A true conservative, he rightly understands that government doesn’t create jobs, people do.
Though Pence has been largely avoiding the limelight that others are fed by, some think he’s been quietly edging toward a national run, appearing in national venues with other top-ranked conservatives, but never overtly campaigning or doing a star-turn headline like Palin or Cruz. The field is wide open right now—and by mid-Summer, anyone could be in.
Why not Pence?