As someone who used to have high hopes for what Vice President Mike Pence might do for the conservative movement and who never got on board the Trump train, I wasn’t thrilled that Pence enthusiastically became Trump’s running mate. I had mixed feelings.
Part of me said that it’s good someone like Pence would have Trump’s ear, but another part wondered whether I had been wrong about Pence from the beginning. How could a solid ideological conservative submit to a guy like Trump?
Some of the anecdotes reported in the wake of the AHCA failure make me think Pence is just another Washington insider driven by politics instead of principle. Politico Magazine describes how the Freedom Caucus and their policy concerns were treated by the White House.
They hoped for a meeting with Trump and an opportunity to negotiate some major policy changes directly with him. Instead, they found themselves hauled into the less-than-inspiring Executive Office Building for a pep rally with Vice President Mike Pence, chief of staff Reince Priebus, Bannon, and other members of Trump’s inner circle—but not the president himself. (As an aside, it’s impossible to ignore the failure of Pence, Price and Mulvaney, three former conservative darlings while in the Congress, to sell more of their ideological brethren on this bill.)
It’s impossible to ignore the failure because for the Freedom Caucus it was probably impossible to ignore the the defection of these men to the cult of Trump. They had abandoned their principled roots for a seat at the table of power.
The incident paints a picture of Pence as just another cynical Washington horse trader trying to score the political win even if it meant arbitrarily discarding the notion of actually repealing Obamacare.
Members of the Freedom Caucus realized right away that there would be no negotiating. Pence tried to pump up the conservatives, telling them the fight was theirs to win and that they needed to help Trump and Ryan score a victory for the new administration. The plea landed on deaf ears. “Take one for the team” was a phrase repeatedly deployed; [Emphasis added]
In the GOP, being asked—or told—to “take one for the team” means two things. One, you are not really considered part of the “team,” and therefore your only value is as cannon fodder or as a scapegoat. Two, your values, principles, and campaign promises are worth spit to whomever is asking you. Only your vote matters and you should expect no reward from the team for selling it to them cheaply.
Ask former Senator Rick Santorum. I sat in the ballroom at one CPAC listening to his mea culpa about his endorsement of his then fellow Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter. He said he didn’t want to endorse the left leaning Republican but President George W. Bush implored him to “take one for the team.” He went along with Bush. Specter was reelected, only to switch parties shortly after. Santorum hasn’t been elected to anything since.
“Take one for the team” belongs in the same ash heap as manipulative B.S. like “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
In theory, making a sacrifice for the good of something bigger than yourself can be a noble act, but when asked to compromise your principles for a dubious good, follow your instincts and not the crowd.