November, 30th 2010

Getting back to his roots?

– Liz Mair

Over recent months, speculation amongst the pundit class has increased regarding the true philosophy of self-indentified Tea Partiers and-- arguably more importantly-- the public figures who have associated themselves with the Tea Party and (in some cases) attempted quite blatantly to leverage it to advance their own causes.

One name I have of late heard mentioned and joined with extensive praise with great frequency from hardcore fiscal conservative, libertarianish Tea Partiers is that of Mike Pence, who they associate with rock-ribbed fiscal conservatism, and with fair cause-- Pence has a pretty conservative fiscal record, apart from (as of a few years ago, at least) on some matters linked to agricultural spending (he is, after all, from Indiana).  This is, it has been noted by a number of liberal critics of the Tea Party, one area where supposed Tea Party candidates (Marlin Stutzman would be another example from Indiana) deviate from their normally hardcore fiscal conservative line, leaving them with a profile a bit different from that publicly transmitted.

But here is another, in terms of tone and emphasis, courtesy of Pence.  Yesterday, he gave a speech to the Detroit Economic Club (which has some members of the punditocracy chattering that Pence can't really be running for Indiana governor, he must be running for President-- something I'm not really convinced by).  Here is how the Detroit Free Press wrote it up:

“Returning America to prosperity doesn’t just mean a major shift in fiscal, tax, regulatory and energy policy, it also will require a return to traditional family values and organized religion, U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Indiana, told members of the Detroit Economic Club … ‘Our present crisis isn’t merely political or economic, it’s moral in nature,’ Pence said. ‘It’s the realization that people in positions of authority have walked away from the timeless truths of honesty and integrity. We’ve got to get back to basics.’” 

The paper also notes that Pence won the presidential straw poll at the Values Voter summit in September, and marks him as a "staunch social conservative."

Which indeed he is.  And indeed many fiscal and economic conservatives are, too.

What's interesting about Pence, though, is that he seems to have appealed so strongly to people I know who are staunch fiscal and economic conservatives, but are basically social liberals, especially on what I sometimes refer to as "gay issues" as a matter of shorthand.  Either this indicates an ability to have crossover appeal to people who should otherwise disagree with him on a general set of issues that, frankly, the speech excerpts cited above, and the description of the tone of the speech, should suggest is actually one that is nearer and dearer to Pence's heart than is economic conservatism.  Or it indicates that people's perception of Pence is a tad out-of-step with the reality of Pence's profile as a legislator and public official.

A couple of years ago, a prominent conservative mentioned to me that in his view, activists prioritize words over actions-- they like to hear people make a rhetorical commitment to the issues they care about; the follow-through with regard to votes, bills introduced, and so on, is less important.  That may be so, and may explain why Pence-- who talks a very good fiscal conservative game-- maintains the strong and positive reputation with fiscal and economic (only) conservatives that he does.

The reality, however, is that Pence is very much a rock-ribbed social conservative, too-- and that for all of the interest that surrounds him by virtue of his stance on taxes, spending and regulation, his social conservatism is arguably a more important personal attribute.  Or so it often appears from where I sit, in any event. [intro]



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