Multiple media outlets reported on Thursday that Donald Trump has chosen Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to join his ticket in the vice president slot. Nationally, Pence is perhaps best known for signing into law a mean-spirited “religious liberty” bill targeting LGBTQ people—then revising the measure after its discriminatory purpose sparked coast-to-coast outcry. The religious liberty flap demonstrated that Pence is casually anti-gay, startlingly craven, and extraordinarily vacuous. All these qualities make him the ideal choice for Trump’s vice president.
A refresher on Pence’s most infamous controversy: In March of 2015, the governor signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Law (known as RFRAs) sent to him by culture warriors in Indiana’s Republican-dominated legislature. He signed the bill in a private ceremony to which he invited a handful of leading anti-LGBTQ activists. While the law largely mirrored the federal RFRA that President Bill Clinton signed in 1993, it differed in several key ways: First, it allowed a religious defense to be raised in a private cause of action, not just against the government; and second, it explicitly applied to for-profit businesses and corporations.
Republican legislators had forced the bill through in response to several lawsuits in states that forbid anti-LGBTQ discrimination, arguing that religious businesses should have a right to discriminate against LGBTQ people. While Indiana does not actually forbid anti-LGBTQ discrimination, some cities do, and the measure was meant to let businesses ignore these statutes if serving same-sex couples would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. It’s not totally clear that Pence understood this at the time. But he quickly grasped the danger of the bill when its passage sparked a campaign against his state for legalizing discrimination.
Initially, Pence doubled down, defending the bill in extremely confused terms. But when the backlash reached a boiling point, Pence agreed to “fix” the bill by adding a provision that explicitly prohibited it from legalizing anti-LGBTQ discrimination. All the while, Pence continued to paint himself as a victim of misguided and opportunistic outrage—even though his willingness to revise the bill seemed to prove that its critics were right all along.
In retrospect, this self-made calamity was the perfect audition to become Trump’s vice president. In signing the bill without, it seems, understanding exactly what it did, Pence demonstrated his willingness to sign onto his powerful allies’ agenda without much critical thought. In defending it afterward, he displayed a tendency toward knee-jerk defensiveness, even as the magnitude of his error became increasingly clear. Then, in following the polls and agreeing to a “fix,” Pence signaled that the court of public opinion will always outweigh other interests.
What more could Trump want in a VP pick? Pence is a fatuous yes-man, a milquetoast mook with no strong convictions other than a desire to win and be popular. He will faithfully follow Trump’s whims and commands, even as they lead him (and the country) toward the abyss. An unprincipled puppet is exactly what Trump needs for vice president. And it is exactly what he has in Mike Pence.