Fox News aired the first post-convention interview with Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence on Sunday: a sit-down with host Chris Wallace recorded at the governor’s residence in Indiana. And even though Fox News is a plainly conservative news outlet, and Pence was given a chance to strike against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, he was still made to answer for some of the latest controversies and gaffes of the man at the top of his ticket, Donald Trump.
Wallace got to the Clinton news straight away. He asked Pence if he believed that the candidate was involved in a “pay-to-play” scheme with top-dollar donors to the Clinton Foundation while she was Secretary of State. Pence replied that it “looks that way more and more every day,” citing a series of recently released, hacked emails that fueled allegations by major Republicans earlier this week. Pence stated that the American people “deserve to know” whether Clinton had performed any favors for foreign donors, but he stopped short when Wallace asked him whether there was any actual evidence of such an action being taken by Clinton’s part:
“This is exactly the kind of pay-to-play politics the people are sick of… It is just one more example of the way, I do believe, that the Clintons have been operating over the last 30 years, and it’s one of the reasons why the American people have a fixed opinion about Hillary Clinton and her truthfulness, and why we so much need to elect Donald Trump as the next president of the United States.”
Wallace used Pence’s call to elect Trump to pivot into some of the GOP nominee’s own litany of controversies—this week, headlined by his repeated assertions that Clinton and Obama were the “founders“ and “most valuable players” of ISIS. Trump spokeswoman Katrina Pierson furthered those accusations during a Saturday appearance on CNN.
Appearing composed throughout the exchange, Pence maintained that Trump was pointing out a “very important issue” about how Obama and Clinton’s policies created a power vacuum in the Middle East that allowed ISIS (which evolved out of former elements of Al Qaeda in Iraq) to rise to power.
Wallace pressed the issue, pointing out that Trump had strenuously insisted he meant the “founder” accusation literally, before he changed course and said he was being sarcastic. Citing Trump’s similar sarcasm excuse after he called for Russia to release Hillary Clinton’s emails, Wallace asked Pence “isn’t the sarcastic excuse getting a bit old?” Pence denied that it was:
“Well, no, I don’t think it’s getting old at all, Chris. Donald Trump made his way through a very competitive primary because he spoke not like your typical politician, but just plainly, like an everyday American. And speaking plainly is exactly what the American people will anticipate in the course of this election, but more importantly, they’re gonna have a president who says exactly what’s on his mind, and the American people are going to hear him loud and clear.”
Pence proceeded to tell Wallace that Trump’s upcoming speech on Monday would contain “his strategy for defeating radical Islamic terrorism,” which led seamlessly into one of the other big blows the GOP nominee suffered this week: the joint letter by 50 Republican foreign policy minds expressing their opposition and fear at the possibility of Trump’s election. Pence smiled as he suggested that he’d seen this sort of thing before, alluding to opposition to Ronald Reagan prior to his election in 1980. Suffice to say, Wallace was skeptical, pointing out that there was “never that kind of mass defection,” but Pence insisted there was “just as much criticism to Ronald Reagan’s broad-shouldered approach to foreign policy.”
Comparisons between Trump and Reagan have become especially controversial lately, on historical accuracy grounds, and following the Republican nominee’s apparent joke about Clinton being assassinated. Reagan himself was nearly killed by a gunman in 1981, and his press secretary James Brady suffered life-altering injuries.
Perhaps the most interesting, oft-ignored issue that Wallace raised, however, was the Trump campaign’s ongoing blacklist against certain news outlets. The Washington Post, for example, has been banned from numerous Trump events, in a tactic that’s raised serious concerns (along with his aggressive anti-press rhetoric) about what a Trump presidency would mean for journalistic freedom. Wallace pointed out that Pence said he’d talk to Trump about lifting the blacklist, but Pence gave no useful insights into how that conversation went.
“I don’t think Donald Trump is having any problem getting press at this point… We’ll keep our private conversations private, but that’s an ongoing discussion in the campaign. I do believe in the public’s right to know, whether it’s these latest allegations about Hillary Clinton or otherwise. We’ll continue to advance that principle.”
If there was a single moment that appeared downright dignity-withering, however, it was when Wallace asked Pence to answer for a handful of some of Trump’s most needlessly destructive actions over the past several weeks. Namely, his attacks on the Khan family, his initial refusal to endorse Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in his reelection bid, and his suggestion that the U.S. might not honor its obligations to defend NATO allies.
Wallace extended the question like a man holding out a knife dipped in poison, saying, “As a serious man, do you ever shake your head?” Pence’s reply wasn’t entirely direct, but it told the tale all the same:
“I really couldn’t be more honored to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Donald Trump. Look, he’s not someone who spent a lifetime in politics. He speaks his heart, and he speaks his mind, and I truly do believe this good man is going to be a truly great President of the United States.”
It's worth noting that Pence seems to have a demonstrated plan of attack when he's talking about Trump and why he'll be a great president: that "good man" line. Pence has used this before, even in his joint interview alongside Trump on 60 Minutes. Maybe it's the power of positive visualization he's going for. If the public only hears the words "this good man Donald Trump" enough times, they've got to start believing it, right?