Think it’s difficult working among the ranks in the Trump administration? Try being Mike Pence.
The vice president has proven himself to be a loyal lieutenant to Trump, standing by his side through some of the most tumultuous times any commander in chief has faced. And for all that loyalty, he likely receives little advance notice ahead of the president’s early morning Twitter tirades.
“Pence is simply and smartly putting his head down as much as he can,” said Brian Howey, who has reported on Pence for decades for his newsletter, Howey Politics Indiana. “About 40 to 45 percent of Republicans back home in Pence’s Indiana think that things are so crazy that he could be president in this term, and so Pence isn’t going to do anything to screw that up.”
After a month on the national stage, Pence is finding his way around his new political reality — much like his boss. But during the first 30 days, Pence has been lied to by the nation’s top security adviser and then he repeated the lie on national television.
Further, when the president found out that Pence was lied to, he didn’t inform his No. 2 for over a week. Trump told Pence moments before the whole world would know.
Pence, a social conservative, had to like what he saw in the Trump administration’s withdrawal of Obama-sanctioned protections for transgender students in public schools (however there is no evidence he personally pushed for it).
Adding to some of these insults is the shifting political landscape in Indiana. Republicans remain in charge of state government, but they are quickly trying to unravel Pence’s legacy.
Governor Eric Holcomb, Pence’s lieutenant governor and handpicked successor, quickly canceled a massive cell tower contract touted by Pence. Holcomb issued a pardon for a man many felt was wrongly convicted 20 years ago (Pence had refused to do so).
In addition, Holcomb declared a state of emergency in East Chicago over water contamination issues, something else Pence had declined to do.
And it is not just Holcomb. The Republican-controlled Legislature also overturned two of Pence’s vetoes, one on a 93-to-2 vote.
But does any of that matter to Pence now? Local Republicans say probably not.
“I have known Mike Pence for three decades, and if you think that he is nothing but happier than a pig in slop right now, you are wrong,” said Rex Early, a longtime Republican strategist who chaired Trump’s campaign in Indiana. “What Pence always wanted is a spot at the national stage.”
Early may have a point about Pence being like a pig in slop.
Howey, the Indiana political expert, said the only way he and his colleagues understood most of the moves Pence made as governor was in the context of his national ambitions.
Pence was a hard-line conservative on fiscal and social issues, Howey said, so as to not cede any position on the right in a Republican presidential primary in the future. Years before Trump was even a presidential candidate, Pence was already speaking in New Hampshire at a major county Republican dinner.
Pence may have even run in 2016 if the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act had not gone over so poorly in 2015. He was forced to repeal the law, and instead of running for president, Pence would have faced even odds that he would be reelected last year.
“Pence knew what he was getting into by signing up with Trump,” said Amy Walter, a nonpartisan national political analyst with the Cook Political Report. “Pence is not some naive politician now shocked by it all. This is what he wanted in a way.”
Inside the White House, Pence is not within the team of four strategists that reportedly have the most access to Trump — namely Stephen Bannon, Reince Priebus, Kellyanne Conway, and Jared Kushner.
Walter noted that, at the same time, it is Pence who has the task of soothing congressional and world leaders after something Trump has said.
“His message to them is that everything is going to be OK, Pence is here and on it,” Walter said. “This puts him in the thick of it.”
Pence may also be thinking about the future. In the first month, he has had lunch with former New Hampshire governor John H. Sununu, talked with current New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu about right-to-work legislation, and has appeared three times at events with US Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.
What do all three men have in common? They hail from the states that are among the first on the presidential nominating calendar.