Somehow Indiana Gov. Mike Pence ended up at the crossroads of a culture war this week and he has no idea why.
According to his account, a combination of some "reckless reporting" and "mischaracterizations" managed to "smear" a perfectly innocent piece of legislation and his beloved state's reputation alongside it. "Heavens"—all he did was sign a little ol' "religious freedom" bill into law at a private signing ceremony with some of his nearest and dearest. How could this all have gone so wrong?
Put a marker here—because this is the exact place that every Republican who harbors national ambitions while living in the land of yesteryear can expect to find themselves at some future, if yet uncertain, date.
All the breadcrumbs that Pence left on his trail to era dysphoria were sure to catch up with him at some point. Though he made certain to tell the press on Tuesday, "I abhor discrimination," his resume had more of an "I adore discrimination" feel to it. Maybe it was just a little slip of the tongue.
For instance, here’s a few tidbits from the website of then-Congressman Pence in 2000, first brought to light by BuzzFeed reporter Andrew Kaczynski.
"In addition to defense spending, Congress should lead a national debate on reforming the military by .... bringing an end to the 'don't ask/don't tell' policy of permitting homosexuals to serve in the armed forces. Homosexuality is incompatible with military service because the presence of homosexuals in the ranks weakens unit cohesion," his agenda stated. …
The "Pence Agenda" supported "an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus."
"Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior," the site said.
Sure, the early aughts were a different time and place, but those words foreshadowed which elements of the culture war Pence would cling to even after American voters hit a fork in the road, scratched their heads, and went the other way.
For more on the GOP's future, please head below the fold.
At last week’s private (read "not open to the press") bill signing, Pence surrounded himself with people who touted the law as giving religious folks free license to discriminate.
Attendee Micah Clark, who heads Indiana’s American Family Association, a notorious anti-LGBT hate group, described the bill to the IndyStar last December:
It would allow small businesses — such as bakeries, caterers, florists, and wedding chapels — to refuse services to gay couples based on the owner's religious beliefs, he said. It would also allow adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples, he said.
Several days after signing the bill, Pence failed to deny those claims a grand total of six times
in his career-ending nationally televised interview
with This Week’s
George Stephanopoulos. But hey, after a universe of business leaders threatens to cut ties with your state as you watch your presidential ambitions circle the drain, sometimes you have an epiphany.
Here’s Pence at a follow-up press conference two days later:
"This law does not give anyone a license to discriminate. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana does not give anyone the right to deny services to anyone in this state."
Really, Mikey? Have you read what the cohort at your exclusive signing ceremony has been saying publicly? Cuz they're not singing from the same song sheet.
Not only was Pence given the repeated opportunity to set the record straight on the consequences of the bill, he also had the chance twice on national television to promote the idea of extending statewide nondiscrimination protections to LGBT people. He had a curt response both times:
"That's not on my agenda."
All this led to an IndyStar editorial from Matthew Tully
that finally named what everyone had been thinking.
Recent months have made one thing clear: You can put those Mike Pence for President campaign buttons, if there were any, back in the drawer. ... When you have to "clarify" a horribly damaging piece of legislation that you raced to sign, when you dodge a question on national TV about whether discrimination is legal in your state, when you deal your state a crushing economic blow, when you seem incapable of understanding the role you have played in creating this mess -- well, that makes clear that you are not in the right job.
And this is where every Republican who seeks to be president will now find themselves given that every last GOP hopeful lined up behind Pence
before he finally conceded that he had to "fix" the discriminatory law.
Jeb Bush, the supposed "gay-friendliest" of them all, said this:
“I think Governor Pence has done the right thing,” said Mr. Bush, who is expected to run for president in 2016. “I think once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all.”
Um, yeah, the facts were finally established and Pence is now in a bunker somewhere at some undisclosed location.
Earth to the GOP—gays have won the hearts and minds of most Americans even if they don't have the special rights to discriminate against their fellow citizens that the "religious" do. So remember that deal that you made with the Christian right back in the '80s and '90s to support religiously motivated persecution of LGBT Americans? It's now nothing short of a political suicide pact waiting to detonate at some future date that may catch you by surprise, just like it did Mike Pence.
Welcome to your future.