In other words, Pence succeeded where mainstream Republicans believe Trump has failed. The vice-presidential candidate’s rhetoric on Russia must have been a welcome relief for veterans of the Republican establishment who have balked at Trump’s apparent embrace of Putin. His more approachable and less abrasive style compared with Trump undoubtedly comforted Republicans worried that Trump’s offensive comments will alienate voters. His traditional social conservatism is more in line with previous Republican leaders than Trump. But that doesn’t mean that Pence can be a post-Trump savior for the Republican Party.
Judged against the aspirations that the Republican Party itself has outlined, Pence is as improbable a GOP presidential contender as Trump. Trump has defied calls from the party establishment to adopt a more inclusive, compassionate approach to politics in the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s presidential defeat in 2012. Yet Pence also represents a stark break with what the party hoped for in a leader when it penned its infamous autopsy only a few years ago. The autopsy famously called for the GOP to reach out to “Hispanic, black, Asian and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too.” Trump tore that ambition to shreds when he started out his presidential run by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. Yet while Pence is unlikely to be as cavalier as Trump in dispensing insults, there’s not much to suggest that he would expand the party’s appeal either.
Pence has a record of advocating positions at odds with mainstream public opinion. While campaigning for Trump, Pence has predicted that a president Trump would overturn the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that affirmed the legality of a woman’s right to have an abortion. “I’m pro-life and I don’t apologize for it,” he said in July. “We’ll see Roe v. Wade consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs.”
A Pew Research report from April found that 56 percent of Americans say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while only 41 percent say it should be illegal in all or most cases. In March, Pence signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, requiring burials or cremations for aborted fetuses. Pence’s “views seem out of step with the majority of Americans on abortion,” Brookings Institution’s senior fellow John Hudak wrote in July.
Before Pence was picked to become Trump’s veep pick, his political star seemed to be fading. The Indiana governor provoked backlash from business groups and LGBT advocates after signing a religious freedom act into law that critics claimed would sanction discrimination against gay people. There was so much backlash, in fact, that Pence felt compelled to sign a revised version of the bill into law. But damage was done. “Gov. Pence got hurt, obviously, with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act fight,” Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, told Politico in July. “Pence was once seen as a potential presidential hopeful himself, but his prospects dimmed in the spring of 2015 amid a nationwide controversy over his state’s ‘religious-freedom’ law, seen by many as targeting gay and lesbian residents.” ABC News wrote in July after Pence was officially named to the VP slot.