Gov. Pence Still Pulverized With 'Cranky,' ‘Extreme,’ Hard-Right' Labels in New York Times

July 17th, 2016 5:14 PM

The New York Times' pulverizing of Trump’s vice-presidential choice, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, continued on Sunday. A front-page story by Monica Davey and Michael Barbaro painted Pence as a conservative extremist forcing an unconstitutional abortion regime onto the women of his state in “Abortion Wars Brought Pence Praise of Right.” Another piece used the terms "loony lighweight" and "cranky" to characterize Pence.

One by one, Republican women of the Indiana state legislature rose to describe, in anguished terms, why they could not support an anti-abortion measure hurtling toward passage.

They hated abortion, they said, but this bill went too far. It would have prohibited a woman from aborting a fetus because it had a disability, such as Down syndrome.

Representative Holli Sullivan called it a “dangerous” plan that could compel women to lie to their doctors. Her colleague Wendy McNamara warned of a return to “back-room abortions.” Another, Cindy Ziemke, said it was a case of government overreach.


Indiana’s governor, Mike Pence, waved off the objections of his fellow Republicans: He signed the legislation into law a few weeks later, enacting what advocates and foes agree was a sweeping and unusual set of restrictions on abortion that went further than any other state in the country and openly clashed with legal precedent.

Mr. Pence’s reputation as a longstanding, implacable and dogged opponent of abortion has made him a hero to the country’s cultural conservatives. Now that he is Donald J. Trump’s running mate, it puts him at odds with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and could complicate the party’s outreach to a decisive bloc of voters in the general election: women.


Under the bill, Indiana would have been the first state to broadly ban abortions based solely on a fetus’s race, on its sex or on its suspected disabilities -- and impose penalties on doctors who violate the rules. Other states, like North Dakota, have banned abortions for some of those reasons, but Indiana’s was more expansive. It touched on the information a doctor must give, the counseling a woman must receive and the handling of fetal tissue. It required that abortion providers bury or cremate fetuses. Traditionally, they disposed of them as medical waste.


Angry protesters, many of them women, marched on the Capitol, bearing sarcastic signs that mocked the governor as a repressive, fatherlike figure from a bygone era. “Set your clocks back 43 years,” read one. “We will not go quietly back into the 1950s,” declared another.

Again the Times embraced the vulgar “Periods for Pence” social media protest.

In a campaign of phone calls and online postings, called “Periods for Pence,” women who felt the latest law infringed on deeply personal decisions mockingly gave the governor’s office jarringly personal updates on their menstrual cycle. If state law ventured this far into their lives, organizers asked, who knew what Indiana officials would demand to know next? “Started my cycle today,” one woman told Mr. Pence in a Twitter post. Another wrote: “Perimenopausal bleeding happening now in South Bend. Some heavy flow, I tell you, Pence. Thanks so much for your concern!”

More “conservative”-heavy labeling followed.

Mr. Pence’s embrace of the 2015 law that could allow religious conservatives to decline services to gay couples had set off a national firestorm, and no group seemed angrier with his response to the fallout than social conservatives.

To them, the governor’s decision to revise the law to satisfy Indiana’s politically moderate business leaders felt like an unexpected betrayal from a man who promised never to compromise his values. “It was a mistake,” said Curt Smith, the president of the Indiana Family Institute, a conservative group, who had worked behind the scenes to keep the law’s original language. “I was very disappointed.”

After his fellow Times reporters described Pence as a hopeless throwback on Friday, veteran congressional reporter Carl Hulse changed the script, placing Pence on the bleeding edge of the extreme right in his own Pence profile, “An Affable, Ambitious Outsider Gets the G.O.P. to Come Around.” (Either way, Pence comes off as an extreme conservative in Times-land.)

The nice headline and reasonably friendly tone hides some hard labeling bias about “cranky,” “extreme” conservatives and “loony lightweights.” If Hillary Clinton chooses a left-of-center running mate, as if quite likely, will the Times give them the same hostile labeling treatment from the left? History suggests no.

Senior members of Congress and their aides used to give me a hard time for paying too much attention to Representative Mike Pence, an amiable conservative from Indiana who wore his staunch ideology and evangelical Christianity on his sleeve.

More than a decade ago, they dismissed him as a loony lightweight, a naïve true believer doomed to failure in the realpolitik world of Capitol Hill give-and-take. They snickered as he and other perceived gadflies on the right fringe pressed for a ban on earmarks, pet projects that greased the congressional skids and were loved by members of both parties. He irritated his own party’s leaders by proposing extreme budget cuts and complaining about deficit spending even after catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina.


As time passed, it became clear that Mr. Pence wasn’t so much out of sync as he was out in front of the rise of the hard-right Republicans who hold such sway in the House today.


During his 12 years in Congress, it was Mr. Pence who was not easily moved from his very conservative stances -- often clashing with the Republican leadership. He opposed President George W. Bush’s major education initiative, and he was one of a couple of dozen House Republicans who balked at their leadership’s prescription drug bill.


His “aw shucks” manner and Ward Cleaver bonhomie could never fully disguise a fierce political ambition. He began climbing into the leadership ranks as a deputy whip but gave that post up to become a leader of the Republican Study Committee, the conservative group that often bedeviled the leadership with its alternative budgets and cranky resistance.