Indiana Governor Mike Pence spoke at a rally in downtown Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Tuesday night. A crowd of a few hundred gathered to hear the Republican Party’s nominee for Vice President drum up support for the party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
However, the speech–which, oddly, started fifteen minutes before its scheduled time–had largely predictable content.
What Pence Said
The policy portions of Pence’s speech focused on contrasting Hillary Clinton’s record with Trump’s policy proposals. He highlighted Hillary’s dishonest conduct with her email server, along with her mixed record as Secretary of State. Pence then focused on how Trump’s policies would improve America’s security and economic standing in the world. The governor also hinted at Trump’s announced immigration speech, saying that his policies “WILL end illegal immigration.”
The Indiana governor also spent significant time rehabilitating Trump’s conservative credentials. He discussed similarities between Trump and former President Ronald Reagan, saying that the two had a lot of similarities. At one point, Pence remarked that Reagan did not see full support until after the first televised debate. This may have been an effort to play down some recent indications that Trump is under-prepared for the debates, and to suggest Trump may surprise the public.
Pence’s ability to humanize Trump for conservatives was, arguably, his strongest content. He joked that, “other than a bunch of zeros after [Trump’s] name,” he and Trump were very much alike. They both care about the state of the country, and want to seriously reform Washington, D.C. The nominee assured the audience that Trump was one of them, saying that Trump believed that “if you get the government out of the way,” the American people are capable of fixing their own problems.
How The Speech Fell Short
Pence’s attempt to rehabilitate Trump’s conservative bona fides was admirable–but focusing on that issue weakened the overall impact of the speech. This move also revealed just how much Trump has to do to win in November.
Candidates almost always pick Vice Presidential nominees with some strategic goal in mind–shoring up support in a specific state, reaching some target audience, etc. As this speech made clear, Trump’s strategy with choosing Pence was to normalize Trump among hesitant conservatives. This move was calculated to better guarantee a unified party as the campaign moved forward.
However, by picking Pence, Trump also doubled down on appealing to the conservative base at the cost of wider outreach. Though the governor did well building Indian’s economy, the RFRA law debacle degraded some of his wider public support. Rather than helping Trump reaching a wider audience, selecting Pence as his VP narrowed the scope of potential appeal.
Pence’s speech would sound good to Trump’s current supporters, but it lacked the punch needed to convert outsiders. Trump’s campaign has to come up with some way to consistently reach independents, or his path to victory will remain slim.