Even before Donald Trump won the election, a common reassurance was that he wouldn’t be that bad in office because he has no real conviction. The flipside is that his lack of ideological zeal leaves a vacuum for the people around him to have disproportionate influence.
The most disturbing individual circling the seat of power is the Vice President-Elect Mike Pence. While Trump is considered by hardline Republicans to have a scattergun approach to social conservatism, his running mate has a track record in steadfast opposition to equality.
The 57-year-old Indiana Governor grew up a Catholic, has cited Martin Luther King Jr and John F Kennedy as liberal icons, and voted for Ronald Reagan’s opponent Jimmy Carter (the incumbent president) in 1980. But he has swerved rightwards since then; he says his views shifted after meeting his future wife at an evangelical church during his college days.
Governor since 2013 of the Midwestern state where he grew up, and with 12 years as a member of the House of Representatives behind him, Pence is best-known for his hardcore social conservatism. He signed the draconian Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana last year, which was an anti-LGBT law, effectively legalising discrimination against gay people. He also proposed in 2000 that money spent on helping HIV sufferers should be used instead for so-called gay conversion therapy. He has also claimed that equal marriage would lead to “societal collapse”, and has called homosexuality “a choice”.
Pence has been at the forefront of the GOP’s fight to restrict women’s rights – condemning abortion and birth control. He says he “long[s] for the day that Roe v Wade is sent to the ash heap of history”.
In 2011, when the Republicans took over the House of Representatives, he authored the first bill to strip all federal money from Planned Parenthood – he threatened to shut down the federal government completely over the issue in the same year. He co-sponsored the 2011 bill, which would have banned all federal funding for abortions with an exception for cases of “forcible rape” (the tautology here is telling).
As governor of Indiana, he cut funding for Planned Parenthood there – which led to an HIV clinic closing down (an HIV outbreak followed). He signed one of the strictest anti-abortion bills into law in the country in March, making Indiana the second US state (after North Dakota) to ban women from seeking an abortion if the foetus has a disability.
He has also voted against equal pay for women, and compared the Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold the Affordable Health Care Act to 9/11.
Fellow Republican ideologues look to Pence to steer the less zealous Trump (twice-divorced! From New York City! Wrote to Elton John to congratulate him on his civil partnership! The hippy) in a socially conservative direction. And, sadly, it looks like this will be all-too-easy for Pence to do. He has worked with, and is liked by, the Republican ideologues who will be influential in Congress – paving the way for him to force through his right-wing agenda.
Also, Trump’s rather nebulous politics aside, he just isn’t as interested in the job at hand as his predecessors have been. During the campaign, his campaign chief Paul Manaford told the Huffington Post that his vice presidential appointment would be the person doing all the work: “He needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn’t want to do. He sees himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO.”
And let’s not forget that, should anything happen to Trump, it would be Pence who’d take over.