As President Donald Trump’s condition continues to be serious enough to require hospitalization, speculation is ramping up about what happens if he can no longer serve or run for re-election. If Trump becomes incapacitated or dies, the reins of power go to Vice President Mike Pence.
And that would be very bad.
As awful as Trump has been on LGBTQ issues – among many others – Pence has the potential to be worse, for two main reasons.
For one, unlike Trump, Pence is a conservative evangelical and fully subscribes to its anti-LGBTQ crusade.
Trump gives his religious right supporters what they want to secure their votes. It’s purely transactional on his part. Trump doesn’t seem to be animated by any personal disdain for LGBTQ people, other than his lack of human feeling for everyone other than himself. He’s happy to sacrifice the community if that’s what his base wants, and he’s compiled a reprehensible record of doing just that.
By contrast, the Vice President is a true believer in anti-LGBTQ causes. Trump joked that Pence wants to “hang them all,” referring to LGBTQ people, a comment that Pence’s spokesperson refused to take exception with.
Indeed, Pence has his own horrible track record of attacks on LGBTQ rights compiled during his terms in Congress and as governor as Indiana. The low point was Governor Pence’s disastrous push for a religious freedom bill starting in 2015. The bill essentially legalized anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
The resulting backlash from companies threatening to take their business elsewhere forced Pence to backpedal dramatically. He was in a tough race for re-election when Trump threw him a lifeline as the vice presidential nominee.
Besides the difference in the depth of their anti-LGBTQ hatred, the other major difference between Trump and Pence is competence. Trump consistently fumbles opportunities. Pence is a more conventional politician, one who knows how to use the levers of power. He has good relationships with Republicans in Congress.
Moreover, he is better experienced in cloaking his extremism in nice-sounding language. The policies are every bit as vicious, but they aren’t heralded by Trump’s rage tweeting.
With Trump falling ill in October, Pence will likely have limited time to do much of anything if the President’s condition worsens. He’ll probably be focused on maintaining the campaign and keeping the government functioning, both on short notice (not that it has ever been well-managed in the Trump era).
If Trump is permanently incapacitated or dies, Pence will have the opportunity he’s always wanted to put his stamp on government. If Biden wins, Pence can try to cram in as many last-minute changes before having to depart the White House. That may well include a few final assaults on LGBTQ rights through the machinery of the bureaucracy.
If Trump stays on the ballot and is effectively re-elected — even if he’s incapacitated, or nearing death — Pence would be his successor. With control of the Senate, the GOP can appoint whoever it wants to replace Trump. Pence is the most obvious, leading choice. In fact, the party very nearly did so in 2016 in the wake of Trump’s Access Hollywood comments.
Back then, Pence offered himself up as a replacement for Trump, in the belief that Trump’s chances were fatally damaged. As we know now, Trump didn’t have to step down – but it showed that Pence is a lot more ambitious than his milque-toast persona would have you believe.
If he’s given the chance to be acting president, even for a short while, he will want to leave his mark on the country —and especially on us. Either way, this uncertain period will be his chance to preview his 2024 campaign for President.