CLEVELAND – Indiana Gov. Mike Pence took the stage at the Republican National Convention forced to salvage the argument for Donald J. Trump’s candidacy.
Sen. Ted Cruz was booed Wednesday night after he withheld his endorsement of his former and current bitter rival. Cruz was initially well-received, and made it through much of an emotional speech about a divided America before he asked Republican America to vote its conscience in November. Delegates loudly expressed their New York values, booing him from the stage.
The senator from Texas did not endorse, and did not even mention Trump's name beyond congratulating him on winning the party’s nod.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did what he could to limit the damage, noting that Cruz advised to vote their conscience for the candidate who could uphold the Constitution. Guess which one that turns out to be.
Would anyone of seeming substance deliver a truly full-hearted endorsement for Trump, who insulted the appearance of Cruz’s wife during the primaries and suggested Cruz’s father was involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination?
Enter Pence. With a little simper of a smile and the soothing cadence of a voiceover actor, the governor gave a graceful and at times humorous address.
It hit all the America staples of his background – corn fields and Ronald Reagan, a son in the Marines and growing up on the "front row of the American Dream." He unabashedly praised Trump as a fighter, and distinctly American. A man who is "ready" to be president.
Touting "common sense Republican leadership," Pence made the crucial pitch to undecided voters – to those he says have been left behind by Democrats. Unions, coal miners, the working man. It was all Trump could have hoped for, but did it work?
So maybe he shores up a base of deeply religious conservatives waffling on the New York businessman. But that conservatism comes at a price, for Pence is deeply out of step with many Americans on social issues. That soothing voice can't hide his radical positions: opposing Planned Parenthood, proposing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and signing a law in 2015 aiding businesses that refuse service to gay individuals.
For the next several months, Pence will have the uneasy task of straddling the widening fissures of the Republican Party. We know by now that Trump won't change. And as November draws closer, there may be more like Cruz who decide it's no longer politically expedient to stay silent in the face of Trump’s nomination, to the anger of the howling Trump crowd.