Opinion

Why Mike Pence scares me more than Donald Trump

The madness of the RNC serves to distract from a very real danger — and I don't mean Donald Trump. I mean Mike Pence.

The Republican National Convention has thus far been a circus of the dangerous and the absurd, a firehose of political surreality in keeping with Donald Trump's entire campaign, only more-so. And while many Americans can be forgiven for finding a certain gallows humor in the GOP's predicament, the madness of it all serves to distract from a very real danger — and I don't mean Donald Trump. I mean Mike Pence.

Okay, I don't mean Mike Pence, per se. Pence is a dead-eyed empty suit, who, caught in the undertow of his running mate, will (almost certainly) never see the executive branch. But as my colleague Damon Linker pointed out earlier this week, the 21st century Republican Party is far more a reflection of Pence than it has ever been of Trump. Which is to say: Even if Trump and Pence go some manner of "away" on Nov. 9, the current iteration of the GOP will not — a fact that is of particular concern for women, future women, and anyone who loves them.

It saddens and infuriates me that at this late date in American history, so much of the discourse surrounding female Americans continues to center on the question of abortion rights and access to birth control — and yet here we are, with half of our two-party system continuing to insist that it knows better than 50 percent of the electorate what we should do with our bodies. And so once again, I'm forced to look at Republican reproductive rights policies and conclude that the Grand Old Party doesn't have my best interests at heart.

Donald Trump has famously flip-flopped (or lied) about his abortion positions, having been "very pro-choice" in 1999, then saying earlier this year that he would change the GOP's abortion policy to include exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, and now presiding over a party the official platform of which calls for "a human life amendment" to the Constitution. Mike Pence, on the other hand, has never wavered so much as a hair in his commitment to doing everything he can — including alienating anti-abortion Republicans — to deny women our bodily autonomy.

But let's not forget: Former Republican presidential hopeful and occasional liberal semi-darling Ohio Gov. John Kasich has done pretty much the same, as has Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, as has Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, as have Senate Republicans, as have Republican-dominated state houses across the nation. The wishy-washy, self-serving waffling of the GOP nominee on a woman's right to control her reproductive destiny doesn't represent the GOP — the stalwart anti-woman position of his veep choice does.

And wait! There's more! Like so many Republican governors, Pence has presided over the slashing of food stamp benefits for tens of thousands of Indianans — a policy that disproportionately affects women (and, it should be noted, their children). Even as Trump has gone back and forth on the issue of the wage gap, his VP pick (like most Republicans on Capitol Hill) has resolutely fought equal pay measures for years. In 1999, Pence cited the Disney film Mulan in support of his opposition to women serving in the military; this past May, Republican senators demonstrated that they still agree. My own governor, Illinois Republican Bruce Rauner, rather loudly refused to attend the Trump-fest — but like Mike Pence, he's taken a machete to our state's social services, which (say it with me now) disproportionately affects women.

But abortion rights are the bellwether issue. To quote Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, reproductive rights "center on a woman's autonomy to determine her life's course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature." Grant us all the rest, fix America's shredded social safety net, feed the hungry, and house the poor — but if you do not allow us to control our own bodies, American women will remain what we have always been: second-class citizens.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: As anxious and disheartened as the Trump campaign makes me, I don't believe he'll win in the general election. What genuinely scares me is not so much Trump himself as the forces of hatred and bigotry that he has unleashed — along with the forces of misogyny within the party that just nominated him.

If Democrats do the work and get out the vote, Trump and Pence may very well sink into the miasma of awful from whence they came — but Paul Ryan, John Kasich, Rick Snyder, et al, will not. And half of their constituents will continue to pay the price.

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