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Why Is My Dad Mad? GOP VP Edition

Why are we talking about Mike Pence?

Another week, another opportunity to fight about the election. Right now, Taylor Swift beefs and Pokémon Go are warring for dominance on your Facebook feeds. But there's also some convention pregaming to do — the Republican version is only a few days away. So here's the latest episode of "Why Is My Dad Mad?"

So why is my dad mad?

Does your dad complain about how he can't find JAG reruns on cable anymore, and is he filled with sadness that you aren't in elementary school anymore?

Yeah. I just got off the phone with him and he was asking if I knew where the VCR was.

Well, then he's probably upset that Newt Gingrich won't be Donald Trump's vice-presidential nominee.

Newt? Is he a politician or a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor?

He used to be speaker of the House back in the '90s — and was one of the Clinton administration's chief antagonists. If you wanted 2016 to be a '90s reunion tour, Gingrich would have been a useful ingredient.

So I just looked this guy up on Instagram. Why are there so many pictures of him with animals?

Well, that is kind of beside the point, but Gingrich loves zoos. And space. And sweeping conservative policy reform.

So he's not Trump's vice-presidential pick. Was it Chris Christie? My dad talks about him a lot. Says he has good taste in music.

Of course your dad loves Bruce Springsteen. But no. Trump didn't pick Christie, either.

So … who is it?

It looks like it will be Mike Pence — although who knows, Trump could change his mind.

Who?

Exactly.

Michael Pence. Sounds like someone who would hoard all the red pens in the British version of The Office. So, who is this person?

He's the governor of Indiana. He used to be a representative, and has been floated as a potential presidential candidate for awhile. He's also nothing like Trump. His career is completely defined by his religious conservatism. If his career were a reality TV show, it would be one of those Norwegian ones where you watch salmon swim upstream for hours.

Trump picked this guy? Why?

Because he's … fine? He brings executive and legislative experience to the ticket, and might appease social conservatives. If you're a Republican and thought the Trump campaign was too hot to drink, think of Pence as some nice lukewarm ultrapasteurized half-and-half to try to cool it down a bit.

Why couldn't Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie do that?

Neither of those men qualifies as mild-mannered, and each comes with his own personal foibles that highlight some of Trump's personal shortcomings. Together, Trump and Gingrich have had six wives. The Bridgegate scandal is ongoing, Christie's approval rating in New Jersey is dismal, and he would make the Republican ticket completely Northeast-centric — an odd choice, given where the party's base resides.

Picking Gingrich or Christie would be like adding Superman to a ticket that already had Batman on it. And we all know how well that works.

So Pence is like putting a flavorless fish oil supplement into the Republican Party's bowl of Cookie Crisp and chocolate milk. What’s the downside? There's always a downside.

Pence might have a laundry list of qualities that make him "attractive" in your average election cycle, but 2016 is not your average election cycle. One of the chief jobs of Trump's vice-presidential candidate will be cleaning up toxic spills on Aisle 5. I don't see "Rhetorical Janitor" listed anywhere on Pence's résumé. As Rich Lowry at National Review notes, "Trump’s running mate will have to be extremely deft at explaining away and deflecting Trump controversies … I wouldn’t be surprised if the Trump team thinks it’s getting a safe choice in Pence and then when he inevitably has trouble defending Trump (he has never operated on this kind of national stage), it won’t look so safe anymore."

Pence had to deal with a massive national controversy himself last year, when he signed a “religious freedom bill” into law. Activists quickly fought back, saying that the law would allow businesses to avoid providing services to LGBT customers. Corporations threatened to take their business elsewhere, and the NCAA, about to hold its Final Four tournament in Indianapolis, said it was worried about the impact of the law. The measure was never repealed, but the state quickly passed a revised measure that cleaned up some of the foggy language — but still left LGBT residents angry with their state government. Conservatives also complained, saying that Pence had given in to the liberals, and that the "fix" was "a hammer to destroy religious freedom."

"Was I expecting this kind of backlash?" Pence said afterward. "Heavens no."

He'd better be ready for some backlash this time — and realize that it won't be fixed with Wall Street Journal op-eds alone. And although Pence is an enthusiastic Trump backer, he doesn't agree with Trump on all the issues, especially some of the most controversial ones.

Does Indiana like Mike Pence?

No. He was running for reelection this year — a campaign he'll now get to abandon — and last we checked was tied with his Democratic challenger. After the religious-freedom fight, progressives in the state are especially miffed at Pence, and things didn't get better when he signed a law strengthening Indiana’s abortion restrictions. Women starting calling his office to talk about their menstrual cycles in a movement called "Periods for Pence." Here is one conversation transcript, via NPR:

Them: "Good Morning, Governor Pence's office"

Me: "Good Morning. I just wanted to inform the Governor that things seem to be drying up today. No babies seem to be up in there. Okay?"

Them: (Sounding strangely horrified and chipper at the same time) "Ma'am, can we have your name?"

Me: "Sure. It's Sue."

Them: "And your last name?"

Me: "Magina. That's M-A-G-I-N-A. It rhymes with — "

Them: "I've got it."

*Click*

In other words, Pence is going to open up a bunch of conversations about social issues that Trump hasn't had much of an interest in focusing on. Trump has repeatedly said that he thinks Planned Parenthood does great things for women — except the abortion stuff, he is quick to add. Guess who was one of the biggest instigators of the GOP's fight against the women's health organization? Yup, Mike Pence. As Vox notes, "Pence sponsored the first bill to defund Planned Parenthood in 2007 — and did so repeatedly through 2011, when it finally passed the House."

Wasn't there anyone else they could pick? Anyone? A 57-year-old white, socially conservative man was the best option to balance out the Trump ticket?

I don't know about "best." More like "good enough considering the circumstances." There are a lot of younger Republican politicians out there, with the potential to excite and attract new voters who are left behind by traditional conservatives and Trumpists, and none of them had any interest in wasting their shot in 2016. Florida senator Marco Rubio and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley would have been excellent choices, but are astute enough to consign themselves to sitting in the shade — or throwing shade — until 2020 gets here. Texas senator Ted Cruz and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan are happy to wait.

On the other hand, Pence might be thinking that being in this race will help in later presidential races. As Jim Newell at Slate notes, "Any time during the 2020 campaign that they mention something terrible Clinton has done — which will be just about every other word — Pence can jump in and say: Yeah, and what did you do to prevent this? I quit my job to stop Hillary Clinton from getting elected president, while you just looked out for yourself."

Trump had no good options, so he went with the one that seemed least likely to get him into any more trouble. The candidate is perfectly content to get himself into a bind, but he has no desire to have someone else push him into a mess. Let's be real — your dad isn't really mad. He just isn't quite as entertained as he's been during most of the presidential election. For those who have had their telescopes out, breathlessly looking for a Trump pivot, this is the closest you're going to get. No about-face, but the wind just ruffled Trump's hair slightly, shifting it ever so imperceptibly to the right.

Is there anything I can tell my dad to make him feel like the '90s are still having a renaissance?

As BuzzFeed noted last year, Pence loves our most beloved artifact from the '90s, that beautiful epic in which Leo DiCaprio drowns in the tears of millions of weeping teens, Titanic: "We love this movie because we still love truth. The truth of 1912 and the truth of our own time. There are icebergs ahead and we know it."