Rep. Mike Pence’s (R-IN) surprise win of the presidential straw poll at the Values Voters summit last month has generated speculation that he is positioning himself for a White House bid as a champion of social conservatives, who have been somewhat pushed aside by the tea party’s focus on economic issues.
On Saturday night, Pence traveled to Iowa — a key state for any presidential hopeful — to speak at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition dinner. The Iowa Independent reports that Pence made an “impassioned plea” for the audience to vote this November in order to “protect your Christian values and freedom.” In his speech, Pence suggested that advancing socially conservative policy is more important than fixing the economy, bizarrely implying that marriage equality will further damage the economy:
Pence said although economic issues are important for the country right now, its a lack of morality that pains the nation most. Everything that is great about America, he said, could come crashing down because of the lack of values in Washington.
“We will not restore this nation with public policy alone,” he said. “It will require public virtue and that emanates from the traditional institutions of family and religion.”
He continued by shooting down sentiments that moral issues must wait until the failing economic climate passes. Moral issues, he argued, are the bedrock of the American nation.
“To those who say that marriage doesn’t matter, I say, ‘you would not be able to print enough money in 1,000 years to pay for the government you would need if the traditional family continues to collapse.’”
Beyond its insensitivity to gay Americans, Pence’s prioritization of preventing marriage equality over fixing the economy if an affront to the 15 million unemployed Americans who, regardless of their stance on social issues, no doubt see joblessness as a more pressing threat than two men getting married.
Meanwhile, polling indicates that the economy is by far the most important issue for Americans, while a slight majority of the public now favor same-sex marriage. Reflecting this, Pence has presented a very different message when speaking to anyone outside of far-right Christian groups. In an interview with Radio Iowa two days before his speech, Pence said, “Creating policies that will open the doors of opportunity to families during this difficult economy and create jobs has to be the first priority and I believe will be the first priority if Republicans are given another opportunity to lead.” Late last month, Pence told ABC news that “the most important things to do right now” are to “[g]et this economy moving again, get spending under control, reform government.” Pence has even attacked President Obama for supposedly not priortizing the economy.
Pence seems to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth, depending on who’s listening. When speaking to social conservatives, who may be a crucial base for a presidential bid, Pence dwells on their unpopular issues; but when speaking to the country as a whole, he focuses the economy — something that actually matters to most Americans.