Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Can Indiana Governor Mike Pence Revive His Political Career?

Later this month, Indiana Governor Mike Pence will announce he is seeking a second term.    During the past several months, Pence has been under constant attack, his reputation as a leader sullied.  "Pence Must Go" signs are springing up all over the state.   Pence has been under attack not only by Democrats, but by Republicans like Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard.    Even many Republicans activists have declared the race is over, that Pence has no chance of winning. 

I am not ready to waive the white flag.  The 2016 election is a long way off. But I do agree that if Pence does not dramatically change his political strategy, he is doomed to lose.  Below are my suggestions in that regard.

up of four distinct groups:  establishment, evangelicals, tea party and libertarian.  There is considerable overlap between the last three groups.  The establishment group is much smaller than the other three, but they dominate GOP politics by bringing more money to the table and placing their people in key positions throughout government.  Many establishment Republicans believe the way to win elections is to distance themselves from the other three GOP groups and focus solely on economic issues.  Establishment Republicans have never understand the critical role the other three groups play in the success of the GOP.   Unfortunately, the establishment types have apparently advised Pence that the problem is his base, which is basically evangelicals and tea party types.  No, the problem is that Pence has alienated his base without adding any moderate voters to his coalition.

REBUILDING THE PENCE BASE:   After realizing the current strategy is not working, Pence's first goal needs to be restoring his political base.  He needs to sit down with evangelicals and tea party types who have grown extremely alienated by how Pence has governed.  Those people are key to Pence's re-election. They are the energy of the party, the people who put out the yard signs, make the phone calls, knock on the doors.  If they stay home and don't assist Pence be re-elected, the Governor is dead in the water.   Pence can really improve his relations with these groups by meeting with their leaders, going to meetings, patiently listening to why they think the Governor has abandoned them.  There is a reason why these hard-core political supporters are called a "base."  It's because those supporters are the foundation upon which a candidate builds a winning coalition.  Without the foundation, the whole political building falls.

STOP RUNNING FROM THE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ISSUE:  Pence's problem is not his support of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but how he handled it.  When he began taking fire, Pence's response was to back down and start trying to make concessions.  That simply telegraphed a message to the public that Pence was doing something wrong, possibly even nefarious, in his support for RFRA.  Pence's approach allowed the other side to define the issue as a "license to discriminate," without a shred of proof to support the claim.   Pence needs to understand the importance and manner of controlling the message.  With regard to RFRA, that message needs to be unwavering support for religious freedom.  Being for religious freedom is not an unpopular cause.  (Every single Republican presidential candidate has embraced religious freedom.)  It's only unpopular when you let your opponents redefine the issue.

GET RID OF DANIELS' APPOINTEES:  Many Pence supporters salivated at the new Governor being in a position to replace Daniels' appointees who seemed more interested in helping themselves and their friends to the public's money than doing what is best for taxpayers.  When Pence came in, we were stunned when Pence reappointed scores of Daniels' people.  Many of the Daniels' appointees remain loyal to their old boss, not to Pence. Some observers believe Daniels' people are deliberately sabotaging the Pence administration.  Regardless, the Daniels' loyalists are not Pence's friends and he needs to purge his administration of those people.  Now, unfortunately, we're seeing Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard political appointees migrating to the state.  Liberal Ballard appointees are highly unlikely to be supportive of conservative Pence.

NEED FOR BETTER POLITICAL ADVICE:   Good political advisers are like good chess players.  They not only see the opponent's likely next move, but they map out in their mind scores of future moves and what response will be taken.  Time after time again the Pence administration seems completely unprepared for that next chess move, much less the one several plays down the road.  Whether it is RFRA, JustIn, or the Indy Pride letter, the Pence folks seems surprised when things went wrong.   Pence needs a James Carville type advising him, someone schooled in politics and knows how the game is played.

DEVELOP BETTER CAMPAIGN ISSUES:   Pence needs to find good issues that will put him in a better political light. He certainly can't win the election on economic development.  He should embrace populism, an approach to economic issues that crosses party lines.  He should come out against long-term privatization contracts that enrich certain companies while mortgaging the future.  He should seek legislation to cut back on local corporate subsidies which are simply taxpayers funding corporations moving or threatening to move from one Indiana community to another.  Pence needs to come out strongly against the continued increase in local taxes and fees which are consuming more and more of hardworking Hoosiers' paychecks.  These issues won't sit well with establishment GOP types who think government exists to make big business wealthier, but you know what?  Screw them.  They are incredibly popular issues and could go a long way to restoring Pence's popularity.

CHANGE APPROACH TO PUBLIC APPEARANCES :  You ask voters to describe Pence and the adjectives you would get are:  mean, out-of-touch, cold-hearted, distant, robot-like, humorless.   Those of us who got to know Pence before he entered politics, know he is one of the most personable guys you could ever meet.  He is the quintessential nice guy, a person who also has a great sense of humor and doesn't mind making fun of himself.   Pence, who was an outspoken conservative even in law school, was well liked by even by most extreme liberals at the school. Pence needs to take advantage of his personality by being out in the public, engaging voters in informal situations.  Pence certainly has the personal skills to deal with the occasional angry voter who assaults him over RFRA and other issues.  Pence's handlers though seem intent on controlling the environment by only having the Governor speak in formal situations where conflict won't happen and the message can be controlled.  That's a huge mistake that takes away Pence's No. 1 strength, a strong, likable personality.

Those of us who don't want to see a Democrat elected Governor in 2016, should hope Pence makes these much-needed changes.


Deb Spencer said...

Personally, I have given up on Pence. After renaming Common Core, "fixing" RFRA, and welcoming pornographic parades to Indy, I don't believe he has the best intentions for conservative Christians in Indiana. I am hoping a strong candidate who actually represents conservatives and Christians will step up to primary him!

Anonymous said...

Bill Oesterle for Governor!

Flogger said...

From the Guardian Newspaper
North Carolina court officials can opt out of presiding over same-sex marriages for religious objections, state lawmakers decided on Wednesday, overriding a veto of the bill by Governor Pat McCrory. McCrory had vetoed the bill two weeks ago, saying: “No public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath.”
Is this what the Evangelical Movement wants in Indiana??? Sounds and reads to me like a "license to discriminate".

Anonymous said...

I agree with many of your points especially the last one. I saw then Congressman Pence in Muncie many years ago. An angry union supporter confronted him and Mike handled it flawlessly. He valued the individual and then very politely and positively told him why he was wrong.

LamLawIndy said...

My advice to Gov. Pence: go big or go home.
1. Scrap the income tax in favor of a Tennessee-like consumption tax
2. Nevada-style voucher for every Hoosier child to attend the public or private school of their choice
3. Marijuana decriminalization so that we don't spend valuable judicial and law enforcement resources on a once-legal substance

Paul K. Ogden said...


First, your comment has nothing to do with RFRA which was never a license to discriminate.

What it sounds like NC was considering was a freedom of conscience law. Not sure what is wrong with that. So you think people should be compelled to do things that are against their strongly held religious beliefs? And that's not discrimination?

Pete Boggs said...

The Governor can revive his relevance if he rediscovers the radio guy we thought we elected (Constitutionally articulate), awakens in the position he currently holds (vs another executive position he doesn't hold) & acts accordingly- that would work. Barring an awakening; it's going to be tough.

Anonymous said...

I would put a PENCE MUST GO sign in my yard if it included a subtitle supporting public education because of Pence's destructive and systematic dismantling of public education and support of vouchers. (Something like "PENCE MUST GO, Support Public Education!"