Donald Trump’s presidency has its fair share of critics. Calls for impeachment have circulated since he assumed office, and pundits speculate about his resignation after every crisis. Late night Twitter tirades of incoherent frustration give the impression of a president feeling insecure in his position. The possibility that Vice President Mike Pence may succeed to the presidency one day is certainly plausible. Of the 43 U.S. presidents, 20 percent of them were vice presidents who succeeded to the office after the death or resignation of the president.
But eagerness to see Trump vacate the White House has been tempered by concerns about Pence. Many people fear Pence’s religious zeal and his medieval deference towards the inviolability of Christianity. One book even branded him as a “shadow president” and a “Christian supremacist.”
The concerns about Pence are understandable, but he must be regarded as a preferable alternative to the current state of affairs. Pence wouldn’t be the most competent president, but at least he wouldn’t undermine American institutions and prestige as expeditiously as Trump. Pence could be the placid occupant of the presidency through this period of highly sensitive domestic and international challenges. Unlike Trump, he pursues an agenda rather than an ego. He acts on objectives rather than impulses. He styles himself as a principled conservative who respects the Constitution. Pence would make a better president than Trump.
It is Pence’s social agenda that dissuades people from promoting him as a desirable alternative. It is true that he holds deeply conservative views on marriage, abortion and religious privilege. However, a hypothetical President Pence could only be as malevolent as the legislature he works with. Social moderates only need to wage battles in Congress and prevent malicious bills from reaching Pence’s desk.
Aside from signing or vetoing bills from Congress, the president’s only direct power over law is through executive orders. It is unlikely that Pence would sign an executive order on a purely social issue. As much as he may like to do that, the pushback from the judiciary would be intense. Many of Trump’s executive orders have already been delayed or struck down by judges. Today’s federal courts appear to give deference to the executive on cases of national security and economics but not social issues.
Pence’s greatest advantage as a new president would be the fact that he’s not Trump. This is a cynical view on the qualifications of the presidency, but it is true nonetheless. Pence solves for most of Trump’s character flaws. Where Trump dives into Twitter feuds every time he’s criticized, Pence exercises restraint. Where Trump sometimes reveals classified information and still uses his personal iPhone, Pence runs a tight ship when it comes to information security. Where Trump’s stupidity impedes his ability to grasp concepts and communicate clearly, Pence’s experience as a congressman and governor afforded him competency in statecraft and oration.
Best of all, Pence’s succession to the presidency would reaffirm the American commitment to international structures and values. When Trump cast doubt on NATO, the North American-European defense alliance, he emboldened Russian aggression without achieving anything meaningful. Pence has spoken publicly about our unwavering commitment to NATO, while privately pushing for European allies to spend more behind closed doors. Pence understands what should be stated publicly in front of a camera and, more importantly, what shouldn’t.
Pence’s foreign policy would be more consistent, strategic and values-based. Expect a revival of American idealism on the world stage, such as human rights and democracy. Expect a closer alignment with Israel and a more precise strategy against rivals. Meetings with foreign leaders will be treated as opportunities to advance American objectives. No longer will free concessions be granted to untrustworthy antagonists, as Trump did at his egocentric meeting with Kim Jong un. No longer will the commander-in-chief side with rivals over U.S. intelligence services, as Trump did in Helsinki. No longer will the leader of the free world cower when Saudi Arabia assassinates a journalist in another country, as Trump did with the Jamal Khashoggi case.
Pence would be a stronger president. That matters when the U.S. is already the world superpower and all eyes are scanning for signs of weakness. Every time Trump weighs in on foreign policy, the hyenas are thrown another bone.
If nothing else, Pence could free the White House from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump’s former campaign associates are the subjects of the investigation, and Trump himself is relevant insofar as obstruction of justice is concerned. Mueller has made no indication that Pence did anything wrong. If Trump exits the White House, then the newly inaugurated President Pence will shuffle the cabinet and get to work. The presidential agenda will no longer be burdened by a criminal investigation.
There are a hundred reasons why Pence would make a better president than Trump. Pence is a calm, experienced, conservative politician with a healthy respect for the Constitution. If he ever replaces a dethroned Trump, the country’s interests and values will be better served.