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The Shadow of Mike Pence in Indiana

Once again, a GOP governor has vetoed a socially conservative policy in an attempt to cover his own backside.
(Governor Eric Holcomb/Flickr)

There are a few axioms that have held true over decades of American politics: The congressional budget will never be balanced; Democrats will always find a way to make the debate about racism; and if there is a way for Republicans to prostitute themselves for the hope of appearing “moderate” to their colleagues, they will do it.

On Monday, Gov. Eric Holcomb of Indiana vetoed a bill from his state’s legislature that would have prevented men from competing in women’s sports in the state at the K-12 level. Holcomb, who was appointed Indiana’s lieutenant governor by Mike Pence before being elected governor in 2017, argued that the bill, H.E.A. 1041, would have been challenged in court, and thus was not worth even trying to pass.

In the letter explaining his decision, he wrote:

The presumption of the policy laid out in HEA 1041 is that there is an existing problem in K-12 sports in Indiana that requires further state government intervention. It implies that the goals of consistency and fairness in competitive female sports are not currently being met. After thorough review, I find no evidence to support either claim even if I support the overall goal.

The problem, of course, is that laws are designed in part for the deterrence they provide: Like good border security and good criminal law enforcement, a law that protects female-only spaces like women’s sports needs to be in place before the act is committed, rather than attempting to make amends after the damage is done. Or, in layman’s terms, we can’t wait until William Thomas has trounced every college female in the NCAA 500 meter women’s freestyle before we say “Wait, that’s not OK,” and apologize to the formerly top female athletes who are now taking second place.

But the shadow of a previous Indiana governor also looms large. After all, Pence’s own reputation, prior to being Donald Trump’s running mate, was as the guy who passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—designed to protect Christian business owners from Masterpiece Bakeshop-esque coercion—and then immediately backpedaled under pressure and agreed to a legislative fix that effectively defanged the law.

These are men in whom the left smells weakness. In the case of Pence, they pushed and he bent over. Holcomb made it even easier, censoring himself before the left could raise a complaint. What we should have learned by now—that the left doesn’t care if it’s true when they call you a racist, sexist, misogynist—continues to be forgotten by cowed politicians predisposed to a diet of self-flagellation. Meanwhile, it’s costing conservatives real battles.

It might be less pathetic if obeisance at least earned these figures the favor they crave, rather than still more contempt, but it doesn’t.