There was some surprise when Donald Trump's running mate Mike Pence refused to call David Duke "deplorable" on CNN, viewed as a gaffe he would soon correct. Pence instead doubled down yesterday in a press conference on Capitol Hill, continuing his line that he wouldn't engage in "name-calling," even about a former KKK grand wizard.
Even Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, on CNN, said the Indiana governor should've called Duke deplorable, though she made an embarrassing, telling mistake and substituted Donald Trump's name for David Duke: "He should -- sure. So that -- so that he doesn't get headlines saying Mike Pence will not say Donald Trump is deplorable."
Dana Milbank at The Washington Post, in a column today headlined, "The Trumpifciation of Mike Pence," notes not only Pence's refusal to call Duke deplorable, but several other positions -- such as Trump's romancing of Russia's authoritarian and certainly bigoted leader Vladimir Putin -- about which Pence now agrees with Trump:
I've always thought him an honorable and amiable man, and I accept his friends' assessment that he took the job in hopes of changing Trump. Instead, it seems that Trump has changed him.
But in fact, Mike Pence hasn't changed one bit. He's always been a bigot, backing positions and ideas that displayed animus for classes of people. It may sometimes have been different groups than those Trump is most vocal about right now, but that doesn't change the definition of bigotry.
In 1996, Pence wrote a column (dug up by Ari Rabin-Havt) for the Indiana Policy Review, the magazine of a think tank (by the same name) Pence once ran. In it, Pence lamented the Republican Party's '96 convention and its softer approach, by comparison, toward minorities. Pence pined for the days of the infamous '92 "culture war" convention, where virulent homophobe and nativist Pat Buchanan delivered a fire and brimstone jeremiad in prime time that sent a jolt through the electorate and, some believe, helped sink George H.W. Bush's re-election that year.
Pence lamented that the '96 convention supposedly spotlighted "an endless line of pro-choice women, AIDS activists and proponents of affirmative action" -- not-so-subtle code for feminists, gays and blacks -- which was textbook hyperbole, since there was hardly an "endless line" of such people. Mary Fischer, for example, a Republican woman with AIDS, was the first and only AIDS activist to speak that year at the Republican National Convention. But that was clearly one too many for Pence.
Pence also complained in the column about what he called the "systemic exclusion from prime time of social conservatives," noting that "whether the elites in the media or the GOP like it or not, traditional pro-family conservatives make up the bedrock of the modern Republican electoral success."
In 2000, as a member of Congress, Pence proposed cutting off funds for HIV prevention, and instead diverting the money to "ex-gay" therapy programs. This, he said, would ensure that "federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus." Instead, "resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior."
He also said, "Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexuals as a 'discreet and insular minority' entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities."
In 2006, Pence said in a speech that marriage equality would lead to "societal collapse," and called homosexuality "a choice." Stopping gays from marrying wasn't biased, he said, but was rather about compelling "God's idea."
These are just a few among a long list of positions and actions Pence has taken against LGBT people, minorities and women. Most remembered in recent times has been Pence's signing of an extreme anti-LGBT "religious liberty" bill in Indiana last year, which was met with an intense backlash from business leaders across Indiana and around the country. It became a high-profile story and Pence made a fool of himself, standing his ground on the law on national television, though unable to defend against its bigotry.
Faced with boycotts by companies threatening to move out of Indiana, Pence and GOPers in the legislature were forced to soften the law somewhat. Since being named Trump's running mate, Pence has tried to put that episode behind him. And the Trump campaign has, outrageously, tried to cast the mild-mannered governor as the campaign's face of gentility -- and, compared to Trump, it's hard for anyone not to come off that way.
But sending Pence out to attack Hillary Clinton for her "deplorables" comment was a misstep because underneath, and in the past, Pence is the very kind of bigot to which Hillary Clinton was pointing in taking on the "racist, sexist, homophobic" and other elements among Trump's supporters. And that's why it's not shocking that he wouldn't call David Duke deplorable.