Mike Pence: A Very Strange Match

They’re not quite Felix and Oscar, but Mike Pence and Donald Trump certainly are an odd couple: the oft-married, loyal-to-no-one-but himself whoremaster Trump and the guy who won’t be alone in a room with any woman other than his wife. From the same New Yorker article The Curmudgeon excerpted yesterday about vice president Mike Pence come the following observations about the relationship and interaction between Two Very Scary Dudes. The Curmudgeon originally wrote snarky commentary to accompany some of these excerpts but he decided to remove them: they’re really not necessary.  (Everything that follows is a direct quote from The New Yorker.)

*     *     *

After many years, the return of the vice president whose primary job is to look adoringly at his boss

Pence, who has dutifully stood by the President, mustering a devotional gaze rarely seen since the days of Nancy Reagan, serves as a daily reminder that the Constitution offers an alternative to Trump.

*     *     *

“The President considers him [Pence] one of his best decisions,” Tony Fabrizio, a pollster for Trump, told me. Even so, they are almost comically mismatched. “You end up with an odd pair of throwbacks from fifties casting,” the former White House strategist Stephen Bannon joked, comparing them to Dean Martin, the bad boy of the Rat Pack, and “the dad on ‘Leave It to Beaver.’ ”

*     *     *

Pence has taken care to appear extraordinarily loyal to Trump, so much so that Joel K. Goldstein, a historian and an expert on Vice-Presidents who teaches law at St. Louis University, refers to him as the “Sycophant-in-Chief.”

*     *     *

Trump handily won the Indiana primary. Pence, who had tepidly endorsed Ted Cruz, switched to Trump. Pence’s history with Trump, however, was strained. In 2011, Pence had gone to Trump Tower in Manhattan, seeking a campaign donation. Trump brought up some gossip—the wife of Mitch Daniels, the outgoing governor of Indiana, had reportedly left him for another man, then reunited with her husband. According to the Times, Trump announced that he’d never take back a wife who had been unfaithful. Pence reacted stiffly, and their conversation grew awkward. Trump gave Pence a small contribution, but the coarse New York billionaire and the prim Indiana evangelical appeared to be on different wavelengths.

Nevertheless, in 2016, political insiders in Indiana began hearing that Pence would welcome a spot on the Trump ticket. “There was no doubt he’d say yes,” Tony Samuel, the vice-chair of the Trump campaign in the state, who was a lobbyist for Centaur and other companies, told me. Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman at that point, arranged for Trump to meet Pence, and urged Trump to pick him. Pence was seen as a bridge to Christian conservatives, an asset in the Midwest, and a connection to the powerful Koch network. Kellyanne Conway, who had done polling work for the Kochs, pushed for Pence, too, as did Stephen Bannon, although private e-mails recently obtained by BuzzFeed indicate that he considered the choice a Faustian bargain—“an unfortunate necessity.”

*     *     *

Still, Trump remained wary. According to a former campaign aide, he was disapproving when he learned how little money Pence had. In 2004, the oil firm that Pence’s father had partly owned had filed for bankruptcy. Mike Pence’s shares of the company’s stock, which he had valued at up to a quarter of a million dollars, became worthless. In 2016, according to a campaign-finance disclosure form, Pence had one bank account, which held less than fifteen thousand dollars.

*     *     *

But in July Pence found a way to please Trump when he played golf with him at Trump’s club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Recognizing that Trump was susceptible to flattery, he told the media that Trump “beat me like a drum.”

*     *     *

Yet, in a phone conversation that I had with Trump during this period, he told me that he was torn about the choice. He noted repeatedly that Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, had been “loyal” to him. When I asked Trump if he shared Pence’s deeply conservative social views, he became uncharacteristically silent.

*     *     *

Before Pence’s trip to Bedminster, he had asked his brother Gregory to meet him at a Burger King. “He said, ‘Donald Trump wants to talk to me,’ ” Gregory recalled. They both knew what it was about. “I told him, ‘You have to go, you have no choice,’ ” Gregory said. As he saw it, his brother also had no choice about saying yes, if picked: “When your party’s nominee asks you to be the running mate, you have to do it.” But it was a gamble. As Gregory put it to me, “If he lost, he had no money, and he had three kids in college. He took out student loans for the kids. He’s got a retirement account, but I was afraid he’d run out of money in just a couple of weeks. He’d have to get a job. He was rolling the dice.” Some politicians in Indiana were surprised that Trump wanted to pick Pence, who was flailing as governor, and that Pence wanted to run with Trump. “The one thing you could count on with Pence was interpersonal decency, which made it strange that he joined the Trump ticket, the most indecent ticket any party’s ever put together,” Pete Buttigieg said. “But, really, he had nowhere else to go. His chances of getting reëlected were fifty-fifty at best.”

*     *     *

By July 14th, Trump’s aides had leaked that he was about to pick Pence, who had flown to New York for the announcement. But that night, as CNN reported, Trump called his aides to see if he could back out of his decision. The next morning, Trump called Christie and said, “They’re telling me I have to pick him. It’s central casting. He looks like a Vice-President.” A few hours later, Trump announced Pence as his running mate.

“I love this guy, I could just kiss him on the lips”

Several days later, at the Republican National Convention, Newt Gingrich, who had also been passed over for the Vice-Presidency, found himself backstage next to Trump while Pence was giving his acceptance speech. “Isn’t he just perfect?” Trump asked Gingrich. “Straight from central casting.”

*     *     *

The awkwardness between Pence and Trump didn’t entirely dissipate. When the “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced, revealing Trump’s boast about grabbing women “by the pussy,” Karen Pence was horrified. According to a former campaign aide, Pence refused to take Trump’s calls and sent him a letter saying that he and Karen, as Christians, were deeply offended by his actions and needed to make an “assessment” about whether to remain with the campaign. They urged Trump to pray. When Trump and Pence finally did talk, Pence told him that his wife still had “huge problems” with his behavior. But in public Pence was forgiving, saying, “I am grateful that he has expressed remorse and apologized to the American people.” (A Pence spokesman has denied that there was any friction over the incident.)

*     *     *

“What’s Pence doing?” Walter Mondale, who served as Vice-President to Jimmy Carter, asked me recently. “I ask myself that every day.” Before taking the job, Mondale got Carter to agree, in writing, that he could attend every meeting and see every memo that the President did. Mondale also requested that his office be moved from the Old Executive Office Building to the West Wing. Subsequent Vice-Presidents have inherited these upgrades, but Mondale felt that all Pence was doing was “trying not to make an enemy of the President.” Trump is known to humiliate subordinates, and Mondale noted that Trump often asks Pence to act as a master of ceremonies and introduce him at events, which Mondale finds demeaning. Dan Quayle, who was Vice-President in George H. W. Bush’s Administration, praised Pence, whom he has known for many years, for fulfilling the two major duties of a Vice-President: to be supportive and to be prepared. But when I asked Quayle if President Bush had ever asked him to leave the room—as Trump reportedly asked Pence to do, so that he could privately ask Comey to ease up on Flynn—he said, “Never.”

Mark Knoller, who has covered the White House for CBS since Gerald Ford’s Presidency, said of Pence, “He’s the most publicly deferential to his President of any V.P. I can remember.” At Trump’s first full Cabinet meeting, Pence said, “This is the greatest privilege of my life, to serve as Vice-President to a President who’s keeping his word to the American people.” Pence readily complied when Trump asked him to stage a protest at an N.F.L. game in Indianapolis on October 8th, by leaving the stadium when some players refused to stand for the national anthem. (Pence’s trip reportedly cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.)

In private, however, Pence has become a back channel for government figures who are frustrated by the impulsiveness and inattention of a President who won’t read more than a page or two of bullet points. Erick Erickson, a conservative commentator who admires Pence, told me, “Everyone knows that Mike Pence can get the job done, and the President can’t, but no one can say it.” According to NBC, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently became so enraged by the President’s incompetence that he called him “a fucking moron” in front of others, and threatened to quit. In an effort to calm Tillerson, and prevent yet another high-level resignation, Pence reportedly “counselled” the Secretary of State on how to manage Trump, suggesting that he criticize him only privately.

Trump knows how to keep Pence in line

“Trump thinks Pence is great,” Bannon told me. But, according to a longtime associate, Trump also likes to “let Pence know who’s boss.” A staff member from Trump’s campaign recalls him mocking Pence’s religiosity. He said that, when people met with Trump after stopping by Pence’s office, Trump would ask them, “Did Mike make you pray?” Two sources also recalled Trump needling Pence about his views on abortion and homosexuality. During a meeting with a legal scholar, Trump belittled Pence’s determination to overturn Roe v. Wade. The legal scholar had said that, if the Supreme Court did so, many states would likely legalize abortion on their own. “You see?” Trump asked Pence. “You’ve wasted all this time and energy on it, and it’s not going to end abortion anyway.” When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”

 

 

 

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: