The choice of Mike Pence as Donald Trump’s running mate was supposed to be more than an attempt to balance the Republican ticket with a traditional conservative voice. Given the presidential nominee’s lack of familiarity with many key policy issues, many conservatives hoped the Indiana governor would not only play a key role in a prospective Trump administration but also help influence the billionaire to adopt positions that both conservative Christians and foreign policy hawks could support. One of Trump’s statements in last night’s second presidential debate and the subsequent reaction from Pence exploded any notion Pence is and would ever be anything but a spear carrier.

The exchange about Syria in the debate was remarkable because, when moderator Martha Raddatz asked Trump about Pence’s views on Syria, he dismissed his running mate’s views as if they were those of an opponent.

Raddatz: I want to remind you what your running mate said. He said provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength and that if Russia continues to be involved in air strikes along with the Syrian government forces of Assad, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime.

Trump: He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree.

In speaking about the need for the U.S. to stand up to Russia, Pence articulated mainstream Republican views. But Trump stuck to his desire to appease Vladimir Putin.

Some might interpret the slight as payback for the reports about Pence’s dismay over Trump’s offensive comments about sexual assault in the “Access Hollywood” tape and speculation that he might even drop out because of it. But when the debate ended, Pence tweeted his support for Trump and then went on cable television shows on Monday morning to deny, ridiculously, that there were any differences between them.

While the fib wasn’t to Pence’s credit, such blind loyalty is part of the job of any vice presidential candidate. But the consequences of this episode tell us about more than this specific issue. On foreign policy, trade, the economy, social issues, or even religious freedom, Trump remains a New York liberal turned populist outlier who has little use for traditional Republican positions, let alone those of conservatives.

 

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