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Mike Pence Is Boring

And why that bothers Donald Trump

AP Images
AP Images

Donald Trump did not want to pick Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate.

We learned this because one of his soon-to-be-sued aides told CNN’s Dana Bash that he asked if he could get out of it — but really, we’ve known it for some time, haven’t we?

In the 1950s-era America that Trump endeavors to re-create, Pence does check many boxes. A law that let businesses refuse service to same-sex couples? Check. A proposal to fund gay conversion therapy with taxpayer dollars? Check. A law the courts struck down that would have forced women to seek funeral services for fetuses if they had an abortion or even a miscarriage? Check. A 2001 op-ed that argued “smoking doesn’t kill”? Check. Mike Pence is what would’ve happened if Don Draper had gone on to join the Christian Coalition.

Still, there’s just something not very Trump about him. Pence isn’t down with banning Muslims or waging trade wars with China. And while his positions on social issues may be controversial, his personality isn’t. Pence is scripted, disciplined, and usually on message. When companies all over the country threatened to boycott Indiana if he signed a controversial “religious freedom” bill into law, Pence backtracked, changed the bill, and said he regretted not spending more time listening before he signed it. After a particularly nasty race for Congress in the ’90s, Pence called negative campaigning “wrong,” and said that candidates should show their “basic human decency.” He even described his own talk radio show as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.”

Mike Pence is, in a word, boring.

Now, Republicans in Washington love boring! These are people who get heart palpitations each time they check Trump’s Twitter feed. Pence might not have been their first choice, but no one’s first choice wanted the gig. Trump is such an outstanding businessman that he could barely convince someone to take a position that’s a heartbeat away from the most powerful job in the world. So yes, of course the Establishment wanted Pence. The Senate candidates love the pick. Paul Ryan loves the pick. The party elders love the pick. The #SureWhateverTrump crowd loves the pick.

But Donald Trump does not love the pick. Because Donald Trump hates boring. He hates being handled. And he hates being told what to do by establishment types whose political instincts he has very little regard for (and hey, he’s got a point). For Trump, picking Pence is like being forced to read a carefully prepared speech from a teleprompter, or send out a bland, responsible statement after a terrorist attack. You just know that he can only behave for so long before he decides to let his hairpiece down and give us the full, unadulterated Trump.

Such was the case after the news of the Pence pick was sloppily leaked a day early. As someone who prides himself on the ability to drive and dominate every second of the news cycle, it must’ve driven Trump crazy to watch from California as the media greeted his vice presidential selection with a collective shrug and a chuckle. And so, while all of his handlers and his soon-to-be running mate were in New York, Trump decided to lash out. He tweeted that he would postpone his VP announcement because of the terrorist attack in Nice, and then immediately appeared on a couple of Fox News shows to talk all about his VP announcement. Trump teased that he had not made a “final, final decision.” He called Newt Gingrich “a fantastic person.” He called Chris Christie a “fantastic person” twice. Then, he said, “And there’s Mike … Mike has done a great job.” Later that evening, Trump reportedly called his senior advisers to find out if he could get out of picking Pence. The advisers finally prevailed, and Trump reluctantly tweeted out the news of his selection the next morning.

For now, at least. Trump may (or may not!) appear with Gov. Mike Pence at an announcement event, but he won’t be very happy about it. And if history is any guide, he will do something to shake off the boredom, stir up some controversy, and show us that Donald Trump listens to no one but Donald Trump.