Michigan GOP applauds Pence choice

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s pick of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate is comforting some conservative Republicans and stoking outrage among progressive Democrats over the 2015 religious liberty law Pence signed that was widely viewed as legalized discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Trump announced Friday morning on Twitter that Pence would be on his ticket in a move Republican Party leaders hope will calm concerns that the billionaire businessman doesn’t adhere to the GOP’s conservative principals.

“He’s someone who will be able to deliver a good Republican message, help shore up our base and add to Donald Trump’s business experience with his legislative and government experience,” Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said of Pence.

Trump and Pence plan a formal announcement event Saturday morning after the presumed GOP nominee canceled Friday’s expected announcement in Manhattan following the deadly truck attack in Nice, France that killed 84 people.

Pence’s own presidential ambitions were deflated in March 2015 when he signed a law under protest from Indiana’s corporate leaders that effectively allowed a person or business to cite their religious beliefs opposing homosexuality as a legal defense to deny service or housing.

“It’s fitting that an out-of-touch extremist like Donald Trump would pick Mike Pence, an extreme right-wing politician who has consistently put the wants of far-right interests over the needs of the people of his own state,” Progress Michigan Executive Director Lonnie Scott said in a statement. By choosing Mike Pence, Donald Trump has signaled that he is doubling down on hate and intolerance.”

Facing national backlash and threats of businesses leaving the Hoosier State, Pence and the GOP-run Indiana Legislature quickly clarified the law with an outright ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Pence represented Indiana in Congress for six terms before being elected governor in 2012. He faced a noon deadline Friday to withdraw his candidacy to stand for re-election as governor.

Pence’s record as a fiscal and social conservative in Congress and Indiana may bring comfort to Republicans wary of Trump’s commitment to their cause.

“I think he would help bring conservatives along who have been apprehensive about Trump, not knowing where he’s coming from,” said Saul Anuzis, a former Republican National Committee member who worked on Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. “I think he would help unite the party.”

Wendy Day, grassroots vice chair of the Michigan Republican Party, has been an outspoken critic of Trump heading into next week’s Republican National Convention. Day, of Howell, is a delegate for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and was Cruz’s Michigan campaign director during the primary.

Day said Friday that Trump’s addition of Pence doesn’t quell her concerns about the bombastic billionaire.

“Do you think Donald Trump is going to listen to Mike Pence?” Day asked reporters during a taping of WKAR-TV’s “Off The Record.” “That’s the question that we have to answer. ... I think there’s some good things to be said about Mike Pence. ... My only question is: Will Donald Trump listen to him? Because he doesn’t seem to listen to folks very well.”

Michigan U.S. Sen. Gary Peters was among Democrats who criticized the pick, noting that Pence opposed a 2008 automotive industry bailout plan supported by then-President George W. Bush. Pence had supported an alternative reorganization plan at the time.

“Mike Pence voted to let the auto industry go bankrupt, opposes raising the minimum wage, and has promised to cut taxes for those at the top,” Peters said in a statement. “Working families in Michigan need more jobs and higher wages — they can’t afford the dangerous policies of Donald Trump and Mike Pence.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Friday went as far as congratulating Trump on choosing “the second worst vice presidential pick in history.”

Trumka did not clarify whom he felt was the worst pick for vice presidential candidate.

Despite criticism from Democrats and progressive, McDaniel said she believes Pence will help the GOP attract other voters to their side this fall as well as shore up the party’s base.

“Any election for any candidate, you need your base to turnout,” McDaniel said. “And I think Mike Pence is going to appeal to the Republican base and beyond.”

Pence’s last known trip to Michigan was an Oct. 12, 2015, Republican Governors Association event in Detroit, where he toured the site of the new Red Wings stadium alongside Gov. Rick Snyder, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

The event was unpublicized and included a panel discussion among RGA members and allies, according to Snyder’s office.

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Twitter: @ChadLivengood

Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed.