Eight years ago, Bill Clinton earned the title “explainer-in-chief” when his speech at the Democratic National Convention made a very persuasive case for re-electing Barack Obama.
Mike Pence earned that title this year, after Bubba was all but sidelined by his party, in his renomination acceptance speech Wednesday night that connected all the dots and laid out the brick-by-brick argument for why Donald Trump deserves four more years.
Pence addressed the elephants in the room: Hurricane Laura, currently a Category 4 storm, is bearing down on Louisiana and Texas; and Kenosha, Wisconsin, is a tinderbox in the aftermath of still another police shooting followed by protests verging on riots and then a teen shooting several of the protesters. “Let me be clear: the violence must stop—whether in Minneapolis, Portland, or Kenosha,” he declared, picking up a theme that gained steam this week, culminating in his address. “We will have law and order on the streets of America."
This was a moment for Pence to address the chaos, show strength, and score some culture war points—and he did. “[Y]ou won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America,” Pence continued. “Under President Trump, we will stand with those who stand on the Thin Blue Line, and we’re not going to defund the police—not now, not ever.”
There’s a lot of range from attack dog to motivational speaker, but Pence can run the gamut from indignation to inspiration.
His attacks on Biden—who’s flatly said that he won’t defund the police but who Republicans are working to portray as someone who can’t stay the tide of his party’s leftward surge—weren’t limited to the protests, either, as when the vice president noted that his predecessor had “even opposed the operation that took down Osama Bin Laden.”
Pence also attested to Donald Trump’s personal decency, despite all contrary evidence (another theme of the night), and reminded conservatives that Trump always keeps his promises (such as moving the American embassy to Jerusalem and appointed conservative judges).
Pence went so far as to literally say, “The choice in this election is whether America remains America.”
He also went out of his way to tell Americans that Trump had built “the greatest economy in the world”—and that it only went away because “the coronavirus struck from China.” (Even in this simplistic telling, Trump is a hero, because he shut down travel from China and launched “the greatest national mobilization since World War II.”)
Since the virus took away Pence’s argument that Trump could preserve this amazing economy, he instead framed the question thusly; “Who do you trust to rebuild this economy? A career politician who presided over the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression? Or a proven leader who created the greatest economy in the world.”
If you follow politics closely, you know these are familiar themes. They are familiar for a reason: If people believe them, then Trump has a good chance of winning. If they don’t, he doesn’t. The key is to lay them out in a manner that makes the argument seem obvious, and Pence is the kind of politician who can do this.
He served a vital function at this convention by making the point-by-point argument for re-electing Trump—a huge task, and one that Trump isn’t up to. Likewise, because of Pence’s style (which seems to be a combination of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush impersonations), his very presence hearkens a sort of nostalgia, suggesting a return to normalcy.
And there’s also this: Maybe it was the live audience—a stark contrast to everything else Wednesday night—but appearing at Fort McHenry, Mike Pence did look presidential, didn’t he?
Having finally received the official nomination this week to again run as Donald Trump’s running mate (take THAT, Nikki Haley!), I figured Pence’s speech would subtly be the launch of his 2024 stump speech. And, in a sense, it was. But it was more. It was the ultimate test of his ability to handle the rhetorical demands of that kind of role.
By once again being the loyal deputy—by making the case for Trump in a way that Trump couldn’t even make—Mike Pence simultaneously elevated himself to the top tier of the 2024 pack.