"Grandiosity and Misogyny": Jeff Sharlet on "Common Thread" Between Mike Pence & Donald Trump

July 21, 2016


Jeff Sharlet

associate professor of literary journalism at Dartmouth, author of several books, including C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy and the best-seller The Family. His most recent book is Radiant Truths.

As Indiana Governor Mike Pence is added to the Republican ticket as Donald Trump’s running mate, we look at his religious right-wing track record as governor of Indiana and, before then, as an Indiana congressman. "The enemy, to them, is secularism," says guest Jeff Sharlet of Pence’s faith-based supporters. "They want a God-led government." Sharlet is the author several books, including "C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, "Breaking with Convention." This is "War, Peace and the Presidency." We are broadcasting from the Republican National Convention, broadcasting inside and out, from the streets to the convention floor. I’m Amy Goodman.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence has accepted the Republican nomination for vice president. But Pence’s speech on Wednesday night was largely overshadowed by Senator Ted Cruz, who refused to endorse Donald Trump in a stunning 21-minute prime-time address. Cruz mentioned his former challenger by name only once.

SEN. TED CRUZ: I want to congratulate Donald Trump on winning the nomination last night.

AMY GOODMAN: Texas Senator Ted Cruz went on to outline his vision for the Republican Party. While he never directly criticized Trump, by the end of the speech Cruz was repeatedly interrupted by boos and delegates chanting "We Want Trump!"

SEN. TED CRUZ: If you love our country and love your children as much as I know that you do, stand and speak and vote your conscience. Vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: Near the end of the speech, Donald Trump appeared at the back of the convention hall in a move to draw attention away from Cruz’s speech. Cruz left the podium to a chorus of boos. His wife had to be escorted off the floor. Some Republican delegates described Cruz as a traitor to the party, while others praised him for refusing to back Trump. This all occurred on a night when Governor Pence was supposed to be the center of attention as the Indiana governor accepted the party’s nomination to be vice president.

GOV. MIKE PENCE: We have a choice to make. This is another time for choosing. If you want a president who will protect this nation, confront radical Islamic terrorism and rid the world of ISIS, if you want a president who will restore law and order to this country and give law enforcement the support and resources they deserve, if you want a president who will cut taxes, grow our economy, and squeeze every nickel out of the federal bureaucracy, if you want a president who will build strong borders and enforce our laws, and if you want a president who will upend of the status quo in Washington, D.C., and appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will uphold the Constitution, we have but one choice, and that man is ready. This team is ready. Our party is ready. And when we elect Donald Trump the 45th president of the United States together, we will make America great again.

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Pence, speaking Wednesday night after accepting the Republican Party’s nomination to be vice president. While Trump has claimed Pence was his first choice, The New York Times is reporting Donald Trump actually wanted Ohio Governor John Kasich to be his running mate and that Kasich declined. According to the Times, Donald Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. called Kasich’s adviser, asking if the governor wanted to be, quote, "the most powerful vice president in history," unquote, promising Kasich would be in charge of both domestic and foreign policy. Donald Trump’s son reportedly said his father’s role as president would be simply making America great again. Trump’s campaign disputes this account, denies it wanted Kasich over Pence. Ohio Governor Kasich has not come to the convention, even though it’s being held in his own state and he’s been in Cleveland this week, like at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Well, we begin today’s show with a look at Governor Mike Pence, the man who could become the most powerful vice president in history, if Donald Trump is elected in November. We’re joined by two guests. In Washington, D.C., Darren Samuelsohn is senior policy reporter for Politico. His article is called "The Old Cassettes That Explain Mike Pence." Joining us by Democracy Now! video stream in Albany is Jeff Sharlet, author of Radiant Truths.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jeff Sharlet, let’s begin with you. Tell us the story of Governor Mike Pence. Who is this Indiana politician, who was congressmember, governor, Fox talk show host?

JEFF SHARLET: Well, he’s a Kennedy Democrat. He’s an Irish Catholic Kennedy Democrat who really either lost his way or changed his way back in college at a Christian rock festival that was meant to be sort of an evangelical Woodstock. He decided to accept Jesus and become an evangelical, and that turned him on the path to conservatism, away from the sort of Democratic roots. In 1980, I think he voted for Jimmy Carter. By '84, he was a Reagan Republican. By the early ’90s, he was running for Congress and losing badly because of his very sort of negative campaigning, and he learned how to be a kind of a smoother, kinder Ted Cruz sort of character. He has the ideological makeup of Ted Cruz. He just doesn't have the visible venom. And he entered Congress in 2000.

And what’s interesting about him is the way that the press is playing him as sort of Mr. Stability, as this kind of a more moderate—a conservative, but mild-mannered. You go back and you look at his record, and you see that this is easily the most anti-reproductive rights vice-presidential candidate in history, that he is not a man who is using his crusade against abortion as a political tool, but one who speaks of it, and extensively, as the greatest cause of our time, is what he calls it. He says that abortion is worse than slavery and the Holocaust combined. So we have a guy here who everyone is saying is the opposite of Trump, but there’s a common thread between them, and it’s—there’s two: grandiosity and misogyny.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to go to a clip from a speech Mike Pence gave at a Values Voter Summit in 2010.

REP. MIKE PENCE: To those who say that marriage is not relevant to our budget crisis, I say you would not be able to print enough money in a thousand years to pay for the government that you would need if the family continues to collapse. To those who say we should focus on cutting spending, I say, OK, but start by denying all federal funding for abortion at home and abroad. You want to find savings? Let’s cut funding to research that destroys human embryos in the name of science, and let’s deny any and all funding to Planned Parenthood of America.

AMY GOODMAN: That is, yes, the vice-presidential nominee, Mike Pence. Jeff Sharlet, can you elaborate on this?

JEFF SHARLET: That is a really key clip. And it goes to, I think, one of the common misunderstandings about American conservatism, is that there’s—on the one hand, there’s social conservatism, and on the other hand, there’s fiscal conservatism, and right-wingers can kind of be either-or. You’ve got guys like Mike Pence, and in that speech and in other speeches where he says what we need is a marriage of moral and fiscal conservatism—you can’t have one without the other. Abortion, as he says, is an economic issue. That comes, for him, from one of his mentors, a guy named Chuck Colson, one of the leaders of the Christian right, died a few years ago, more famous—or infamous—as one of Nixon’s dirty tricks men, who went to prison, was born again and came out as a sort of a house intellectual of the Christian right, where he mentored men like Mike Pence in this idea that all of these things are bundled up.

So when you talk about Planned Parenthood or you talk about same-sex marriage or you talk about the economy, you’re talking about one common enemy. And they do use the word "enemy." The enemy, to them, is secularism. They want a God-led government. That’s the only legitimate government. So when they speak of business, they’re speaking not of something separate from God, but they’re speaking of what, in Mike Pence’s circles, would be called biblical capitalism, the idea that this economic system is God-ordained. And you hear it right there in the Values Voter Summit. And that’s what made him a really popular man in those circles. This is—you know, everyone is obviously sort of saying this was meant to sort of attract the evangelical base. And I think it’s working, and it’s in a significant way. That base is still wobbly for Trump, but much less so with Pence on board and with the idea that in a future with Pence, that some of these issues that maybe progressives have thought they’d been winning on, the tide is going to be turned, especially, probably for Mike Pence, reproductive rights or abortion.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to Indiana’s highly controversial anti-LGBT Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as it’s called. Speaking to ABC News in March 2015, Governor Pence said both Clinton and Obama have supported versions of the so-called religious freedom law, as have 19 other states besides Indiana.

GOV. MIKE PENCE: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into federal law by President Bill Clinton more than 20 years ago, and it lays out a framework for ensuring that a very high level of scrutiny is given anytime government action impinges on the religious liberty of any American. After that, some 19 states followed that, adopted that statute. And after last year’s Hobby Lobby case, Indiana properly brought the same version that then-State Senator Barack Obama voted for in Illinois before our Legislature, and I was proud to sign it into law last week.

AMY GOODMAN: Then Indiana Governor Mike Pence went on to defend the law in the name of tolerance.

GOV. MIKE PENCE: Is tolerance a two-way street or not? I mean, you know, there’s a lot of talk about tolerance in this country today, having to do with people on the left. And—but here Indiana steps forward to protect the constitutional rights and privileges of freedom of religion for people of faith and families of faith in our state, and this avalanche of intolerance has been poured on our state. It’s just outrageous.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was 2015. That same year, during a news conference, Governor Pence also insisted the law does not condone discrimination.

GOV. MIKE PENCE: This bill is not about discrimination. And if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way, I would have vetoed it. I think, in time, people will see it for what it is, and they’ll see we did the right thing here.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, that’s Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Jeff Sharlet, talk about what happened with this bill. I mean, the backlash was enormous, from sports leagues, the NCAA, to corporations, threatening to boycott Indiana. Angie’s List said they wouldn’t do a $40 million expansion of the company. Talk about what happened and what this law was about, that the Indiana governor was pioneering.

JEFF SHARLET: Yeah, yeah, heroic Angie’s List may have been the key to breaking its back. The law is—there’s one level on which he’s right, which is saying that there’s laws like this that have been passed elsewhere, in other states and at the federal level. And the rhetoric of religious freedom as a justification for what is questionably discrimination, that’s not something Mike Pence invented. That’s something that has been going on now since the '90s, and in large part because it's been able to gain that traction, because of Democrats, who—including the Clintons, who did not want to make an issue of it, who wanted to be seen as religion-friendly, and thought it was a low-cost maneuver. And it turns out to be a very high-cost maneuver in Indiana. And you saw him pushing it there just a little bit further, in the same way that he pushed anti-abortion restrictions just a little bit further than all the other states. He wanted to be the first in this kind of—this kind of Christian right crusade. The corporations? This is—this is not a great progressive victory. This is the corporations fighting back. And he walked back the bill. It’s still not a good thing. It’s still a tool for discrimination. This idea that the bill was undone is false. It’s still there. It has a little bit of language, though, that some of his allies in the Christian right didn’t like.

And again, we’re seeing a narrative in the press that maybe Mike Pence isn’t really going to activate the base, because they turned on him. That, to me, is a sign of not following the Christian right and not understanding these kinds of spats and how they understand their politicians. No politician is 100 percent. Ted Cruz is not 100 percent to them. It’s more whether this politician is being used by God. They see Pence as being used by God. They will get over their disappointment in Pence watering down the bill a little bit, because they have the language and the history. They have—when he says he’s against—he’s for tolerance, they understand. Mike Pence is a man who has compared himself to Martin Luther King, to—he’s got a long list of sort of his icons that he seems to be in the tradition of—Abraham Lincoln, William Wilberforce, the 18th and 19th century British parliamentarian who ended slavery and is an absolute icon of the Christian right. Pence sees himself in that tradition, fighting for what Wilberforce called a reformation of manners, what Pence sees in the same way. And that has to do—so, laws like this religious freedom act are just icing on the cake of a much larger project.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk more about the Family Research Council, its relationship with Pence?

JEFF SHARLET: Well, there’s the Family Research Council. There’s Focus on the Family. Family Research Council is Tony Perkins in Washington. It’s a sort of a—maybe the top open lobbying shop of the Christian right. Tony Perkins was, in fact, one of those guys who said, you know, "I feel a little bit brokenhearted by Mike Pence walking back this bill," that was going to be even better at discriminating against LGBT people. He will come around. He has a long history of coming around. He’s a very canny political operator. There’s guys like David Barton, who was a sort of a historian of the Christian right. There’s a whole universe.

One of the ones that I’m interested in is the Fellowship Foundation, sometimes called The Family or C Street. Viewers may remember that back in 2009, 2010, a number of congressional hopefuls—or, I’m sorry, presidential hopefuls—Mark Sanford, Senator John Ensign—were all caught up in affairs that were covered up by this evangelical organization. Mike Pence has been moving in those circles for a long time, using the National Prayer Breakfast, their annual event, as a kind of a backroom lobbying place for him. That’s his foreign policy experience, his meeting with delegations from other countries that are looking to do business with America, often in terms of military funding, and they are going to do that under the cloak of prayer. And Pence has been a really skillful operator in that sense. And I think that’s why he’s liked by conservatives, because he is this moral zealot in the vein of Ted Cruz, but he’s also an operator. He’s also a man who cuts deals. And I think there’s that question of, is he a hypocrite, or is he a true believer? And I think the answer is, yes, he is both, absolutely. And that’s what makes him a potent force.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. I said before that Mike Pence was a Fox talk show host, but he was actually just a radio host. And we’re going to talk about some of the things he said there. Our guest is Jeff Sharlet. He’s author of Radiant Truths, associate professor of literary journalism at Dartmouth College, also wrote the book C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

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