The good news for the Republican Party is that its presidential and vice presidential nominees finally appear to be on the same script. The bad news is that the script doesn’t include any lines endorsing high-profile Republican senators locked in tight reelection races.
Since his nomination two weeks ago, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has repeatedly voiced opinions that sounded very different from those expressed by the GOP’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump. But if remarks he made to NBC News while traveling to a campaign stop in Virginia today are any evidence, the amount of daylight between Trump and Pence in the future will be greatly reduced.
Saying that he stands “shoulder to shoulder” with Trump in the campaign, Pence insisted that he and the candidate actually see “eye to eye” on the issues that appeared to have them toe-to-toe in recent weeks. That includes Trump’s battle with the family of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, the response to Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee, and more.
“I think Donald Trump and I see eye to eye on all those issues,” he said. “Donald Trump and I both said that Captain Khan is an American hero and his family, like every Gold Star family, should be cherished, and by every American.”
He added: "With regard to other issues ... I've seen my role as simply amplifying the points that Donald Trump is making.”
Apparently, part of the role also involved withholding endorsements from Republicans who have offended Trump, like former GOP presidential nominee and current Arizona Sen. John McCain, and first-term Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, both of whom are locked in tight nomination battles.
In a year in which the Republican majority in the Senate is in severe peril, the idea that the party’s presidential and vice presidential nominees would decline to offer their endorsement to GOP incumbents -- particularly to someone like McCain, a war hero who has served in the Senate for just short of 30 years -- is almost unbelievable.
But here we are.
Pence, after announcing his support for House Speaker Paul Ryan yesterday, even as Trump denied Ryan his own, didn’t break with his running mate when asked about McCain and Ayotte. He simply refused to answer when asked specifically about an endorsement.
“I look forward to supporting Republican candidates in the days and weeks ahead all over the country, and so does Donald Trump,” Pence said. “But the stakes in this election are so high. To restore our country and home and abroad, we need new leadership, and I'm looking forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with Donald Trump to drive that new leadership forward.”
In a campaign that is already tearing the GOP apart, Pence’s refusal to stand up and support McCain and Ayotte began drawing harsh condemnation almost immediately. For example, former McCain campaign manager John Weaver tore into the Indiana governor on Twitter.
In 2000, Pence was about as desperate a politician as one could find. McCain came in for him and made a difference. I was there. #shameful— John Weaver (@JWGOP) August 4, 2016
It’s a dilemma for Pence. He can’t run for vice president while constantly contradicting his running mate without appearing disloyal. And because that running mate’s main goal right now appears to be alienating much of his own party, he’ll wind up looking disloyal anyway -- just to the party rather than to Trump.
It’s hard not to wonder if Pence, given the chance to do it all over again, would choose to stay in INdiana and let someone else stand shoulder to shoulder with Trump.