Why Mike Pence's Praise of Joe Arpaio Shouldn't Come as a Surprise

The vice president called the convicted criminal a "champion of the rule of law."

Vice President Mike Pence and Joe Arpaio. Credit: Chuck Burton/AP/REX Shutterstock, Matt York/AP/REX Shutterstock

The White House is continuing to lean on the new tax bill as the keystone accomplishment of Trump’s presidency, and on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence was in Tempe, Arizona, to detail how the cuts will benefit the state’s residents. In attendance was former Maricopa County Sheriff and convicted criminal Joe Arpaio, one of the Trump administration’s most stalwart supporters – and, last August, a recipient of a presidential pardon.

"I just found out when I was walking through the door that we were going to be joined by another favorite," Pence said after taking the stage. "A tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law who has spent a lifetime in law enforcement: Sheriff Joe Arpaio, I’m honored to have you here." The crowd erupted.

In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a brief refresher on "Sheriff Joe," who is now running for the Senate seat that will be vacated by Jeff Flake, who will not seek reelection in November.

From 1993 to 2017, Arpaio fashioned himself as "America’s toughest sheriff," which, as has been made clear in recent years, was a euphemism for encouraging rampant racial profiling and a litany of other legally dubious offenses, not least among them the notorious open-air “concentration camp” (Arpaio’s words) he ran for most of his tenure presiding over Maricopa County. He’s been accused of failing to properly investigate over 400 sex crimes. He’s been investigated for abuse of power. He’s bragged that it cost more to feed dogs than it did to feed his inmates. He even orchestrated a fake assassination plot on himself in order to help get reelected in 1999, framing an innocent man who wound up spending four years in jail before he was exonerated. The list goes on.

Arpaio’s tenure as sheriff came to an end in 2016, when he lost reelection two weeks after being charged for contempt of court for refusing to comply with an injunction barring him from racial profiling. He was convicted in July of 2017, and pardoned by President Trump a month later.

Though his hard stance on immigration certainly helps, Trump’s high opinion of Arpaio is likely the result of the former sheriff’s dogged quest to prove Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Arpaio has maintained his belief that Obama’s birth certificate is a "phony document," saying as much as recently as January 2018. During the same interview, Arpaio said he doesn’t have "any regrets" about his myriad indiscretions while serving as sheriff.

Pence’s praise of Arpaio riled up Twitter Tuesday night, but the gesture is hardly surprising. Trump, Pence and the GOP as a whole have proven that no amount of corruption will keep them from supporting those who support them, especially if those supporters are running for Senate or a seat in the House. The high-water mark for what is considered tolerable was set last December, when an undeniable trove of evidence supporting Roy Moore’s past as an alleged sexual predator didn’t dissuade the White House from endorsing his candidacy for Alabama’s special-election Senate seat. It wasn’t until Moore lost to Democrat Doug Jones that the White House backtracked their support.

Considering Arpaio hasn’t committed any crimes since Trump pardoned him last year, the former sheriff is practically a saint in the eyes of the White House.

Not only did Pence praise Arpaio on Tuesday, the event at which it happened was hosted by pro-Trump organization America First Policies. A report published by CNN in January highlighted the bigoted past of one of the group’s top staffers, Carl Higbie, who has said that "the black race" has "a lax of morality," and that he believes "wholeheartedly, wholeheartedly, that the black race as a whole, not totally, is lazier than the white race period."

It doesn't end there. As progressive commentator Sean McElwee pointed out on Twitter, in his 2012 book, Battle on the Home Front: A Navy SEAL's Mission to Save the American Dream, Higbie wrote, "I certainly don’t agree with slavery, but I do think that you should play the hand you are dealt, and good physical genetics are definitely dealt to many blacks." He's also made demeaning comments toward Muslims, members of the LBGTQ community, and veterans suffering from PTSD. As with Arpaio's offenses while serving as sheriff, the list of Higbie's bigotry is too vast to detail in full.

Higbie responded to CNN's report on Tuesday by saying that the comments were "statistical observation" that were taken "out of context." According to Andrew Kaczynski, who authored CNN's report on Higbie, Pence has appeared at at least 15 events hosted by America First Policies.