The Radical Crusade of Mike Pence
The optics were good. About 100 Carrier factory workers in Indianapolis sat in folding chairs awaiting President-elect Donald Trump, who had announced, via Twitter, he’d saved their jobs. Well, not all their jobs – 730 were saved while another 550 were heading to Mexico – but that was a small detail. (Trump also kept saying he had saved air-conditioning jobs, though the factory makes furnaces.) After a while, a silver-haired man resembling the guy on top of a wedding cake strode to the podium.
“It is great to be back home again in Indiana,” said Mike Pence in the stentorian voice honed during a seven-year career in talk radio, where he described himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.” “The state of Indiana is very proud. We are a proud manufacturing state. We are home to low taxes, sensible regulations, great schools and roads, and the best workforce in America.”
His voice grew somber as he talked about the day last winter when Carrier announced it was moving more than 1,000 jobs to Mexico.
“We met with the leaders of the company back in March, and try as we might to make the Indiana case, it was clear that the die was cast,” Pence said. “The simple truth was that policies coming out of our nation’s capital were literally driving jobs out of this country.”
Much like the distortions and obfuscations that Pence used while defending Trump during the vice-presidential debate, this wasn’t remotely true: Carrier was moving the jobs because it could pay Mexican workers $6 an hour. Critics say Carrier was now staying because it likely feared its $5 billion in federal contracts could be in peril under a vengeful Trump regime. Oh, yeah, and then Pence kicked in $7 million in state tax breaks. Even Sarah Palin decried it as “crony capitalism.”
Pence introduced the man of the hour: “It is my high honor and distinct privilege to introduce to you a man of action, a man of his word, and the president-elect of the United States of America, Donald Trump.”
Then a strange thing happened; well, not that strange, since it was Donald Trump. He spoke of his huge victory, and then admitted that his constant campaign talk of saving Carrier jobs had been bullshit. It was not until he saw a Carrier worker talking about Trump saving his job on television that the president-elect decided to act.
“And then they played my statement, and I said, ‘Carrier will never leave,'” said Trump with a rich man’s version of a laugh.
The media began tweeting furiously. The president-elect had just admitted he’d spaced on a major campaign promise and had only been reminded by a chance encounter on the nightly news!
But one man didn’t bat an eyelash. That was Mike Pence. Resplendent in dark suit and striped tie, he remained ramrod-straight, a proud smile frozen on his face.
Ten days later, dozens of Carrier workers and family members gathered at Mount Olive Ministries church in west Indianapolis as an icy rain pissed down outside. They lit candles and said prayers for the hundreds of jobs that were not being saved.
Sitting in a pew was Chuck Jones, the local United Steel Workers president. He tried to muffle his smoker’s cough and bowed his head. Jones, a gruff man with neat gray hair and a mustache, had become a folk hero since the Carrier spectacle, when Trump attacked him on Twitter for having the audacity to question the jobs Trump didn’t save.
But tonight, Jones’ wrath was for Pence. I grabbed Jones coming in from a smoke break and asked about Pence’s role in the Carrier deal.