Since the Trump/Pence ticket was voted into office back in 2016, many people have asked the same question, who is Mike Pence? He became the 47th Vice President of the United States alongside President Donald Trump, and although he seems to be quietly lurking in the shadows, he’s been up to much more than that. Some of his actions even allude to the possibility of ‘President Pence’ in the future.
Headed for the Oval?
During Donald Trump’s first European visit he not only berated NATO allies, but also physically shoved the prime minister of Montenegro aside. This unsurprisingly ruffled a lot of feathers, especially among many powerful elites, and left a mess in need of carefully clearing up. Enter: Mike Pence. Instead of pushing the Montenegrin leader out of his way, Pence gave him a personal welcome to the White House. Later that day he also softened the blow of Trump’s questionable speech in Brussels by making it known to all in attendance in that DC ballroom that the US was still committed to NATO.
This speech was met with a standing ovation, and from it, people realised that Pence was already seeming more presidential than the man currently occupying the Oval Office. The article ‘President Pence is Sounding Better and Better’ was published by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post the next day. However, the only thing Pence has had to do in order to seem even slightly presidential is be in juxtaposition to Trump’s most problematic characteristics.
The fact that Mike Pence is the only first term vice president to create their own political action fund, to which he gave the name ‘The Great America Committee’, raises flags about his ambitions to climb to the top. This is because funding political travel while he serves as vice president is not its only function. It also helps Pence reach out to and create a network of wealthy elites who may double as generous donors to his potential presidential campaign in the future.
Not only is he one of the most powerful people in the Administration, he is also the only White House official who cannot be fired, according to what former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, told The New Yorker in 2017.
Who is he?
Mike Pence was born in Columbus, Indiana, on June 7th, 1959. He is one of six children in his Irish Catholic family. His father, Edward Pence, was a U.S. army veteran and he along with his wife, Nancy, ran a string of gas stations.
Although he was raised in an Irish Catholic household, Pence is said to have become more deeply invested in his religious beliefs when attending Hanover College. From this college, he received his BA in history in 1981, before moving on to the Indiana University McKinney School of Law where he received his J.D. in 1986.
Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, have been married since 1985 and have had three children together; Michael, Charlotte, and Audrey. Pence told the Hill in 2002 that not only does he not attend any events serving alcohol unless Karen is with him, but he also stated that he will never eat with a woman other than his wife. He describes himself as ‘A Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order’.
What was his political life pre-Trump?
Pence has played many roles in the American political system. He had two failed runs for congress against Democrat Phil Sharp in 1988 and again in 1990. Ten years after these defeats he finally won himself a spot in congress, and from there was re-elected five times. In 2008 he became the Republican conference chairman, and seven years later he assumed the role of governor of Indiana.
In his political career, Mike Pence has not been a stranger to making controversial statements and offending various groups with his views. One of the topics he has fallen under the most fire for is his claimed endorsement of conversional therapy for homosexuals.
In 2000, Pence wrote on his website:
‘Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviours that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behaviour’.
A spokesperson for Pence told the New York Times that the claims that Mike Pence supports conversion therapy are ‘patently false’ and a ‘mischaracterization’. He also stated that Pence was suggesting that the funds ‘be directed to groups that promoted safe sexual practices’ but failed to mention a single organisation that Pence could have been referring to. This has done little to settle the issue and LGBTQ+ groups and activists still connect Pence with conversion therapy, partially because of the tone and language used in his statement on his website.
This was not Pence’s only faux pas with the LGBTQ+ community. In 2006 He quoted a Harvard researcher’s statements in which he professed that same-sex marriage would lead to a ‘societal collapse’. Years later, while Pence was still serving as governor of Indiana, he signed the 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which means that businesses may decline services to people who identify as a part of the LGBTQ+ community because of the business owner’s personal religious beliefs and background.
Most recently, he became the first sitting Vice President to attend The Value Voter Summit, an anti-LGBTQ+ event. At the event he spoke out in defence of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who has been accused of committing sexual assault.
Pence has also tried to put an end to Planned Parenthood. Due to his lofty cuts to their funding in Indiana, many clinics had to close which sparked an HIV outbreak in one county. These actions sound much more like something that could come from America’s current President and a lot less likely to get a standing ovation.
Among his other more Trump-like actions and attributes, Pence unsurprisingly has an ‘A’ rating from the NRA and is in disagreement with many Americans at the moment that there should be restrictions placed on assault rifles. He is much more concerned with the second amendment of the American constitution which was written in 1791 and has little to no bearing on today’s world, than the hundreds of innocent lives that are being taken by it on a regular basis. If you are looking for change in this area, potential President Pence is not for you.
What do others think of Mike Pence?
Well, when he went to watch the hit musical, Hamilton, shortly after becoming Vice-President-elect, he was met with a mixed response of claps and boos from the audience.
After the show, Brandon Dixon, who plays Vice President Aaron Burr in the production, said to Pence from the stage:
‘We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us: our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us’.
‘Thank you truly for seeing this show, this wonderful American story told by a diverse group of men, women of different colours, creeds, and orientations’.
Trump took to twitter to label this act as harassment and demanded for the cast to apologise to Pence for what was said. Dixon did not apologise and instead pointed out to the President that conversation is not, in fact, the same thing as harassment.
Pence had a different reaction to his experience at Hamilton. On the matter, he said:
‘Hamilton is just an incredible production, incredibly talented people and it was a real joy to be there’.
He then continued:
‘But at the end I did hear what was said from the stage. I can tell you I wasn’t offended by what was said — I’ll leave it to others as to whether it was the appropriate venue to say it’.
Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, as well as the White House Chief Strategist for the first seven months of President Trump’s first term in office, describes Pence as ‘the outreach guy, the connective tissue’. By this he means that Pence is a middle man between Trump’s Administration and the most conservative of Republicans. Bannon continued: ‘Trump’s got the populist nationalists, but Pence is the base. Without Pence, you don’t win’. Just like the old saying ‘there’s no smoke without a fire’, Bannon is implying that there’d be no President Trump without Vice President Pence.
What is his plan?
The New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer visited Pence’s hometown of Columbus, Indiana where she met with Harry McCawley, the former editor of the local newspaper Republic. He had close ties to the Pence family, and told Mayer: ‘Mike Pence wanted to be President practically since he popped out of the womb’. He then continued to say, ‘he’s very ambitious, even calculating, about the steps he’ll take toward that goal’.
Pence is seeming less and less like the type to hide in another man’s shadow, so that begs the question: how is he going to make his move on the Oval Office, and when?