For a while now, Trump’s strategy has been to pretend that Joe Biden won’t be the “real” president if he wins the election in November. The reason why so many close to Trump were mysteriously supportive of Bernie Sanders during the Democratic nomination process was because they’d built a campaign around socialist scaremongering, and there was enough material on Sanders throughout the years to make it easy for them. Biden, on the other hand, is a lifelong moderate who failed to support a lot of the progressive ideas being put forward by the progressive wing. When he chose Kamala Harris — a centrist and a former Attorney General — as his running mate rather a “party unity candidate” like Elizabeth Warren, he made the job even harder for them. The narrative was supposed to be about doddering Uncle Joe being controlled by his communist VP, and Kamala didn’t fit the bill
Nevertheless, the Trump team powered on, and the President himself said within the first five minutes of the first debate, “They’ll dominate you, Joe, you know that.” Whoever “they” are has become increasingly nebulous, but Trumpists are too attached to the idea to let it go: Biden is being puppeteered by shady socialists in the background, who are just waiting to jump in and turn America into a communist banana republic the second Joe gets his foot in the Oval Office door. Trump supporters on Twitter obediently dance to this tune; a few days ago, my timeline was full of them sharing a Democratic campaign poster which featured the name “HARRIS” more prominently than “BIDEN”. This, they assured each other, was a sure sign of the true plan for a so-called Biden presidency. Biden was the fool, Kamala was the Trojan horse, and Bernie Sanders and AOC were standing in the wings, waiting to seize control.
How ironic, then, that today we are left to contemplate the President’s own health and the nature of his own VP. Months of questioning Biden’s physical prowess and his mental acumen, of claiming that he is too old and too medically fragile to be counted on for four more years, has come down to this: Donald J Trump testing positive for Covid-19. The man who didn’t want to wear a mask and who conducted large rallies during a pandemic appears to have been infected by his close aide Hope Hicks as he travelled the nation campaigning. He and his wife Melania, who also tested positive, are now quarantining at the White House.
Now our attention turns, inevitably, to Mike Pence. If Trump is incapacitated over the next crucial four weeks before election day, it will be his VP who takes the reins. He may suffer health difficulties after recovering from the virus — it is known to have long-term effects — and even if he remains on the ballot (which is very likely), it could be with the knowledge that his VP will be de facto leader for months to come. Rather than worrying about Harris overshadowing Biden, we urgently need to assess what a Mike Pence presidency might look like instead.
And what could be in store for us then? Pence (who tested negative for coronavirus earlier today) has a long record of hardline conservative views; he is a self-described “devout evangelical” who doesn’t believe in abortion and is thought to have been a driving force behind moving the Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. He has, in the past, supported controversial bills which allow people not to do business with others — say, LGBT people — if they can argue it impacts their “religious freedom”. And at the Republican National Convention a few weeks ago, he lavished the President with praise, saying that he had “learnt so much” from Trump during his four years in office.
Pence is a much more competent and experienced politician than Trump — an establishment insider, really, despite all the “drain the swamp” rhetoric — but his views are just as dangerous. He disagreed with Trump when the President openly wondered whether women “should be punished” for having abortions, saying that his “pro-life” position meant he had a “deep compassion for mothers and the unborn”; playing the politics of being anti-abortion is something he does well, though taking away women’s rights looks the same however you dress it. Similarly, he refused to stand by Trump over the so-called Muslim ban early in his presidency, citing the Constitution, and he doesn’t agree that the Iraq War was “a big fat mistake” either.
In other words, Pence is able to deliver the sort of world Trump has shown us, but with much less resistance. While Trump might drag us all kicking and screaming into a far-right world, Pence would make sure we sleepwalked into it, smiling the whole time. The prospect is perhaps even more grim than the one of Trump continuing down the same path for the next four years. As Trump’s own supporters tell us on the regular: at least with him, you know what you’re gonna get.