Trump v. Pence

An example of the contrast (Narcissist-in-chief IV).

“White House Press Briefing” by The White House is in the Public Domain, CC0

Over the last several years I have noted on occasion (I think in comments rather than in posts) that Pence would be superior to Trump as president. I have noted this and explained more than once that the reason I think this is because Pence, despite his shortcoming from my personal policy preference point of view,* would govern in a more standard way. That he would respect the basic notion of government and governance.

Despite the fact that I would have preferred someone with expertise in public health to be in charge of the administration’s Covid-19 response, the reality is Pence has demonstrated basic competence in his role and has projected the bland calmness needed for such an undertaking.

One can see the contrast every time both he and Trump speak at these briefings and the clip below highlights the difference in ways that words alone can’t. And yes, the video is just the two men answering the same question in very different ways and these answers, in and of themselves, tell us nothing about how efficacious either is doing their jobs away from the podium. But, I would note, what happens at the podium (especially in times like these) is very much part of the job.

So, would I be thrilled with a President Pence? In truth, no, I would not. But I would certainly prefer him to the angry, press-attacking, narcissist for whom he currently works. As I have noted before, I do not think a Pence cabinet would be filled with amateurs and interims. Those who claim he would be “just as bad” are incorrect, in my estimation and even little things like the clip illustrate this (a president who does not instinctually attack the free press would be a welcome relief, for example).

Of the many things that astound me about the clip is the fact that the question Trump was asked was an utter softball. Yet, somehow, he saw it as an attack.

*Try saying that five times fast!

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. MarkedMan says:

    I agree. From the beginning I’ve said that Trump is uniquely dangerous because of his very low mental capacity coupled with a Dunning Krueger effect that is off the scale. We would literally* be better off with a monkey as President.

    * Literally literally, not figuratively or virtually literally

  2. DrDaveT says:

    As I have noted before, I do not think a Pence cabinet would be filled with amateurs and interims.

    It would still be filled with toadies and lickspittles, though. Some of those might be competent at something, unlike the current mess.

    I agree completely that Pence would be a much better President in a crisis. The bar is so very, very low. My fears about Pence were always about how he would be more effective than Trump in normal times at implementing a “make America mediaeval again” agenda. That was before I saw Trump literally turn the Executive Branch into a crime syndicate. I doubt Pence would have done that, either, though he has been content to ride that train.

    ETA: Also literally literally

  3. @DrDaveT:

    though he has been content to ride that train.

    His moral complicity in enabling this president is, of course, a whole other discussion.

  4. CSK says:

    Well, at least Pence probably knows what a clean bill is, unlike Trump.

  5. Argon says:

    Consider however that Pence might’ve been better able to implement the hardline GOP strategy more effectively or less likely to induce the blow-back on the GOP that Trump has done. I seriously doubt that the health system would’ve been any less damaged and honked under Pence than Trump. That is just the GOP operating coincident with their standard operating practice.

  6. @Argon: The argument, again, is not that Pence would be better in every way, but rather to note that on some really fundamental levels he would have operated within the norms of the presidency and upheld some key democratic values (like better respect of the press).

    I also have doubts, given how hard it is to make policy in the US, that Pence (or any other GOP president) would have somehow been super-efficient in policymaking.

  7. Kathy says:

    A bit like saying second-degree burns are better than third-degree burns?

    Really, any of the Republicans on the 2016 primary would have done far, far, far better than Trump. But, again, this is a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, low bar.

  8. gVOR08 says:

    First, I agree with…well everyone, that saying better than Trump is like saying taller than a coronavirus.

    Second, conservatives benefit considerably from the reluctance of the MSM to discuss certain things. Sometimes because they would offend, like the subconscious racism of Trump supporters. Sometimes because they’re boring, like corporate governance and antitrust policy which I mentioned in another thread. Sometimes because they’re secretive and hard to get at, like Opus Dei and The Federalist Society. One of the subjects the MSM avoids, speaking of Mike Pence, is Dominionism.

  9. The following needs more elaboration, but I think while, sure, “better than Trump” is a low bar on one level, I have to point out that a lot of the damage Trump has done has been immense and because of the fact that he simply does not understand the job he is holding. Further, he has clearly damaged US democracy and the global order in ways Pence., Cruz, etc. would not have done.

    And, I honestly believe that Cruz or Pence or just about any standard-issue politician would have handled this Coronavirus stuff better (as a nonpartisan matter of public health) and in ways that almost certainly would have saved lives.

    So, yes, it isn’t hard to be better than Trump, but I think we should not underestimate what it means.

  10. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I think we all know what you’re saying and basically agree. But serendipitously Scott Lemieux has a post at LGM, INCOMPETENCE IS A REPUBLICAN PROBLEM, NOT JUST A TRUMP PROBLEM. He heads it with a shot of W talking with “Brownie” during Katrina.

    I’ll grant that Trump is particularly inept, but had the Senate done its job we wouldn’t exactly be in steady hands now:
    As hospitals across the country face drastic shortages of masks, respirators and other vital equipment, the White House has sent out a plea for donations that’s left many recipients confused and full of questions.

    “In at least one instance this week, Vice President Mike Pence, who heads the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, blindsided private industry by requesting that construction companies donate face masks to hospitals. The White House then failed to provide guidance when directly asked.”

    FYI, I had heard of hospitals soliciting donations of construction company masks before Pence’s remarks, so I don’t know he actually did anything. And echoing my comment a day or to ago about libertarianism, Lemieux concludes,

    Especially at the federal level, incompetence and Republican governance go together like Brownstein and Tucker because incompetence is their governing ethos. With the partial exception of Bush I, post-Ford Republican presidents have basically tried to make “government is the problem” into a self-fulfilling prophecy. In this context, it’s a horrifying prospect.

    I’ve had another take on it. Republicans are owners, not workers. Handling a pandemic is hard work, and Republicans don’t do work. And they can’t trust a professional manager/administrator/czar to serve the owners’ interests first. Whatever the reasons, it ain’t just Trump.

  11. de stijl says:

    Another interesting comparison is Trump vs. Cuomo in coronavirus briefings.

    Manner, demeanor, command of facts, deferring to subject matter experts.

    The difference is stark and shocking.

  12. Michael Cain says:

    For the issues I care most about, Trump installed inexperienced ideologues in his Cabinet the first time around (eg, Pruitt and Zinke). So they started writing new regulatory rules without understanding the process that such must go through, and got beat up in court. On the second go-round, Trump hired lobbyists instead. Who understand the process, have put their heads down, and are putting in rules that the courts will bless because the i’s and t’s are properly dotted and crossed. Given his dozen years of experience on the Hill, Pence would almost certainly have installed the lobbyists to start with, and the disaster would have proceeded faster and farther.

  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Yes, it’s not just what Trump lacks – human empathy, attention span, experience, intelligence – but the malign characteristics he brings: racism, nativism, misogyny, rage, spite, insecurity, cowardice and narcissism. He’s not just weak, he’s aggressively weak. Not just stupid, but insistently, incorrigibly stupid. It’s never enough for Trump to be merely incompetent, he forces all around him to match his incompetence. Anything else – witness the brief disappearance of Dr. Fauci – is seen by him as an attack, a challenge. Fauci was exiled because Fauci was competent. And the only reason he’s back is because social media blew up with #wheresfauci?

    We have now passed all but China, Italy and Spain in the number of confirmed cases. Our death rate will inevitably eclipse South Korea which learned of the virus the very same day we did. SK’s cases are leveling; ours are skyrocketing. The difference can be explained in five letters: T-R-U-M-P.

    And we are stuck with this depraved piece of shit for nine more months. A bunch of people will die because Trump is an idiot. A bunch of people will die because Trump’s house media organ, Fox News, lied in support of Trump. A bunch of people will die because Republicans cared more about cashing out their stock gains than in telling the truth. A bunch of people will die because of #Cult45.

    Six months from now Trump will have to explain why more Americans than Chinese died. Even Joe Biden’s media people will know how to make that point.

    There is no excuse. At some point a narcissist’s deadly lies go from being incompetence to being evil. Trump is an evil man. His party is evil. Every percentage point by which our death toll exceeds South Korea’s is a death caused by Trump.

  14. de stijl says:

    If you watch Dr. Fauci closely, you realize his blinks are Morse code.


  15. @gVOR08: Sure. And rather obviously I am not defending Republican approaches to governance. My main concern is that we don’t lose track of truly bad Trump is (and saying that Pence would only be a slight improvement over Trump is, I think, to give Trump more credit than he deserves).

  16. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Arguably, a Pence presidency operating within accepted norms may not have been super efficient in implementing Rethug orthodoxy, but they wouldn’t have alienated as many voters. The 2018 elections may have resulted in a (smaller) Republican majority and Pence an odds on favorite to win reelection.

  17. de stijl says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    We have to acknowledge that R voters recently go for wildly innapropriate and unfit folks on purpose repeatedly.

    The purpose behind the vote is not because the person they vote for are good at governing, or to legislatively deliver on implicit policy promises, nominate judges, it is to punish people they dislike.

    Ressentiment. Retribution.

    The entire scheme to re-elect Bush 43 in 2004 was predicated on that gay bashing polls well with the rurals and gooses participation.

  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    @de stijl:
    Don’t forget envy and feelings of inferiority. #Cult45 is composed of people who fundamentally know they’re stupid, know they’re backward, and deliberately make choices that will drag everyone down to their level.

  19. Gustopher says:

    Of the many things that astound me about the clip is the fact that the question Trump was asked was an utter softball. Yet, somehow, he saw it as an attack.

    Reporter: “Would you like to pretend to be presidential for a moment, so we can show it on news clips?”

    Trump: “Fvck you.”

    It’s just amazing.

  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    When Trump is forced to behave and stay on script the bottled-up rage seeks any outlet. He’s an insecure man who thinks himself infallible, has to think himself infallible, forced by fear and outside pressure to pretend to be someone else. The internal conflict is intense and probably keeping him up at night. We’ll see more evidence of mental instability, no way he can contain it. The evil inside him will find egress.

  21. Kylopod says:

    I have, for some time, had a running fantasy of getting to meet Pence, and telling him that I think he’s a disgusting person who has sold out his country for the chance at power, and that he damn well knows it.

    I have never fantasized about meeting Trump or telling him anything, because, quite frankly, it just would seem totally pointless. It’s like trying to argue with a piece of excrement, which is, quite simply, what he is.

    That’s the prime difference between Trump and Pence in my mind. Pence is a deeply corrupt and depraved person, but at least there’s a human being lurking somewhere inside–at least I believe so. That’s why I’ve had the fantasy I described and haven’t had it with Trump: it would feel cathartic because I believe that, at some level, it would eat at him just a bit. It’s the difference between someone with a diseased soul and someone with no soul.

  22. gVOR08 says:


    It’s like trying to argue with a piece of excrement

    You remind me I promised somebody I’d steal this.

    Flush the Turd November Third.

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:


    It’s the difference between someone with a diseased soul and someone with no soul.

    This, x 1,000.