Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with CNN’s analysis of Vice President Mike Pence’s travel costs to and from Indianapolis. A Monday statement from Pence’s office has also been added.
On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts football game after members of the opposing team, the San Francisco 49ers, knelt in protest during the playing of the national anthem.
If that’s his natural reaction, why did Pence even bother to show up? Kneeling protests have been a regular part of NFL games since the start of the season. The acts only became more prevalent following attacks on protesting players from Pence’s own boss, President Donald Trump, who fanned the flames by tweeting ad nauseam about kneeling athletes’ supposed disrespect for American symbols.
Pence had to have known a protest was likely, yet he attended the game anyway. Could it have been a calculated political stunt?
On a superficial level, it may seem Pence wanted to honor Colts franchise icon and low-key Republican supporter Peyton Manning, who now has his own statue outside of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (Manning is similar to Pence’s boss in at least one way — he, too, has been accused of sexual misconduct.)
However, the proposed motive doesn’t hold up under further scrutiny.
Take, for example, how Pence’s Twitter staff made use of a prior photo from a separate football appearance in 2014 to show the vice president’s support for his home-state team.
Unless he made a quick change, and the people behind him went to different seats, the two photos above can’t be from the same day.
The theory gains further traction when one considers how readily a typed statement was released.
I’m not alone in my thinking. Jason Kander, a former Democratic Senate candidate from Missouri, also weighed in.
As did an NFL player who protested the anthem.
Trump, on the other hand, defended his colleague.
Pence’s walkout, a blatant dismissal of the players’ fight for racial equality, only further validated the need for more protests. Like many critics, the vice president ignores the central issue of the protests — racially-motivated police brutality — by dismissing the athletes as unpatriotic and disrespectful.
Another thing to consider: Did Pence’s trip waste taxpayer funds? Tom Price, the former health and human services secretary, resigned after drawing heat for chartering expensive private and military jets for government-related travel. The White House is supposedly cutting down on wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars. If Pence’s trip to Indianapolis was merely to attend a football game, which he didn’t even watch, it, too, could fall into the category of needless spending.
According to an analysis by CNN, Pence’s diversion to Indianapolis between visits to Las Vegas and Los Angeles cost more than $240,000 — and that’s not including the price of security and some personnel.
Pence’s office defended the itinerary, saying the Indianapolis visit was planned weeks in advance, while the Las Vegas portion had to be hastily scheduled to fit around other events. Still, that’s a lot of money to throw away on a single football game. The Republican Nation Committee will reimburse a portion of the cost for the flight to Los Angeles, but, as of the time this article was posted, it wasn’t clear how much.
Pence was in Las Vegas Saturday to support victims of a deadly shooting. He was also seen boarding Air Force Two following his departure from the Colts game, supposedly headed to a political event in Los Angeles. Together, this suggests Pence spent little time accomplishing anything productive during his stay in Indianapolis.
On Monday, Pence’s office released a follow-up statement. Their excuse for the trip, that a stop in Indiana was a low-cost detour on a return journey to Washington, D.C., is flimsy at best. Curiously, the statement doesn’t mention Pence’s political event in Los Angeles. Flying from Las Vegas to the nation’s capitol then back to Los Angeles makes even less sense than what actually transpired.
Pence, and the administration to which he belongs, is playing the victim. In reality, he is anything but. ■