The two most breathtaking moments of Governor Mike Pence’s appearance at the Quicken Loans Arena on Wednesday night bookended his speech.
The first was the instantaneously historic speech by Senator Ted Cruz, who pointedly refused to endorse the Republican nominee while not-so-tacitly using the words of the Never Trump movement in urging Republicans to “vote their conscience.”
The second was Trump’s appearance on the stage after Pence was finished speaking, where the two displayed what could only be described charitably as the awkward body language of a couple forced to endure a bad second date.
In any other year, on any other day, Pence’s speech would not have been remarkable. He accomplished, more blandly, what any other vice presidential hopeful has traditionally done by stating the case for his standard-bearer’s candidacy and the case against the opposing party’s nominee.
Pence’s speech stood out precisely because it hewed so closely to tradition, in direct contrast to the iconoclasts who preceded him on stage for the previous two nights and for the previous two hours.
But this year, and especially on this particular night, Pence’s speech stood out precisely because it hewed so closely to tradition, in direct contrast to the iconoclasts who preceded him on stage for the previous two nights and for the previous two hours.
In addition to the barn-burning Cruz, Pence had to contend with a powerfully delivered speech from Eric Trump, whose display of admiration for his father brought out an emotional response from Donald Trump that voters have rarely seen.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich prosecuted a much stronger case against another Democratic term both more substantively and rhetorically than Pence, with his Midwestern politesse, could ever deliver.
The most evocative moment in Pence’s speech was not, ironically, delivered from the podium. His introduction of his 82-year-old mother, Nancy, who tearfully acknowledged her son from the audience, did more to humanize him than any of the bio points he offered on stage.
But in a year when delegates are baying for Hillary Clinton’s blood, when chants of “lock her up” and worse are emanating from the podium and the floor, Pence’s knock on her as “Secretary of the Status Quo” sounded positively anachronistic.
Since the traditional vicepresidential role of attack dog has been usurped this year by the Republican presidential nominee, Pence was left with not much to do other than to deliver some bromides about his own ticket and a few rebukes of Clinton that would have made news in any other cycle. This year, they sounded bland and uninspiring to the base he was brought in to rally and which had been whipped into such frenzy earlier by speakers like Gingrich and Governor Chris Christie, Pence's erstwhile rivals for the vice presidential nomination.
When the story of the 2016 Republican National Convention is written, there will be no shortage of memorable moments from which to choose. Pence’s speech will not be among them – which is exactly why Donald Trump, a man not known for sharing the spotlight – chose Mike Pence as his running mate.