Pence goes to Arizona — and loses his way

SAN DIEGO — Politics is making me sick. I have written about pandering, broken promises, partisan spin, opinion polls, situational ethics, flip-flopping, echo chambers, red and blue states and all the rest for 30 years. And it has taken a toll. I’ve never been more cynical or more distrustful.

Spend most of your time in swamps, and pretty soon all you see is alligators. Over the years, I’ve been deceived and disillusioned by politicians in both parties. I’ve also often bet on the wrong horse and trusted the wrong people.

After a speech about eight years ago I was asked if I could name any politicians whom I respected.

“Yes,” I said. “I only have two. A Democrat: Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. And a Republican: Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana.”

So I settled on two Midwesterners from neighboring states. On immigration, each man had bravely challenged leaders of his own party.

Gutierrez was the first to disappoint me. Arrested twice outside the White House while protesting President Obama’s heavy-handed immigration policies, the congressman tried unsuccessfully to get Obama to use executive power to defer some deportations. In 2011, in an attempt to push the White House to adopt a more sensible and humane immigration enforcement policy, Gutierrez embarked on a 20-city tour he called the “Campaign for American Children and Families.” Several congressional lawmakers, including Rep. Michael Honda, D-Calif., said at the time that administration officials had warned them not to attend. That is how upset the White House was with Gutierrez’s mutiny.

But after the Obama administration launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) in June 2012 — essentially tricking young undocumented immigrants into turning themselves in to authorities in exchange for a two-year deferment from deportation and a temporary work permit — Gutierrez took the crumb and declared it a steak dinner. In September, in exchange for a speaking slot at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., he fell totally in line and enthusiastically praised the same Obama administration that he had spent the last few years railing against. Awkward.

Now, it is Pence’s turn to disappoint. I’ve written about the Indiana Republican — who is now vice president — for more than a dozen years. He usually has a good mind, a good heart and a good supply of the kind of common sense that grows in farm country.

Pence came to my attention in 2006 when, while serving in Congress, he wrote a bill that would have let millions of undocumented immigrants stay in the United States legally. One member of a family would return to the home country for quick processing sessions — at what Pence called “Ellis Island Centers” — before coming back to the United States with a temporary work permit. Nativists hated the Pence plan, calling it “amnesty lite.” I hated the nativists, and so I reached out to Pence. We began a series of interviews and conversations. I became a fan.

But last week, in Phoenix, Pence made a fool of himself. Having hitched his wagon to a president who believes that Mexican immigrants are criminals from a poor, violent, and corrupt country — the kind of place that Trump has previously referred to as a “shithole” — who steal jobs and resources from real Americans, the vice president has embraced the crazy. Speaking to supporters, Pence lamented “open border activists.”

Apparently, the Hoosier doesn’t know much about borders unless perhaps we’re talking about the boundary between Indiana and Kentucky. The U.S.-Mexico border is fortified, militarized and patrolled by more than 17,000 Border Patrol agents. That is not “open.”

Pence also praised former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio — who is now running to represent Arizona in the U.S. Senate — as a “tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law.”

In truth, Arpaio’s contribution to “strong borders” was limited to clownish stunts like having deputies raid a fast-food restaurant in Phoenix because Spanish was spoken in the kitchen. Arpaio wiped his feet on the “rule of law” when he defied a federal judge’s order to stop enforcing immigration law and profiling Latinos. The lawman-turned-outlaw was found to be in contempt of court. Trump gave him amnesty, i.e., a pardon.

Nonetheless, Pence welcomed Arpaio and told him: “I’m honored to have you here.” So, I guess, the vice president is also a little fuzzy on the meaning of the word “honor.”

You see why I’m sick. And as long as I continue to cover politics, I don’t expect to feel better anytime soon.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.

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