Magazine article The Spectator

Mike Pence: Trump's Inside Man

Magazine article The Spectator

Mike Pence: Trump's Inside Man

Article excerpt

Veep Mike Pence is the new president's link to his party

Let's take stock. Donald Trump, until last week, had never done a government job or held an elected office. He ran for president as a kind of anti-politician, ignoring the conventional wisdom about how to win. Amazingly, he won. It was, in its way, an impressive feat, overturning much conventional wisdom. Still, there's no getting around the fact that, as president, he's got to be political and must surround himself with politicians. Mike Pence, his vice-president, may turn out to be the most important of the lot.

The two men did not previously know one another, but have become friends over the past five months, and recognise each other's merits. They are a study in opposites. Trump is larger-than-life, tempestuous, never boring; Pence is mild, methodical, steady and a trifle dull. Pence is a 'Tea Party' critic of politics-as-usual, but by comparison with the new chief he looks like an insider. Even if Trump's team dismantle parts of the immense federal government, as they intend, they've still got to know how to manoeuvre in the Washington labyrinth. Pence knows his way around.

In last week's jostling for power, he clearly came out ahead of Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. Trump almost selected Christie as his running mate back in July, before settling for Pence. He gave Christie the consolation prize of organising the transition, at a time when hardly anyone thought there would be a transition. Now that the impossible has happened, Trump has taken the suddenly significant job out of Christie's hands and given it to Pence.

Trump may well believe, along with nearly everyone, that Christie was to blame for 'Bridgegate', the deliberate creation of paralysing traffic jams on one of the major bridges from New Jersey to New York to punish a Democratic town mayor who refused to endorse Christie for governor in 2013. Two of Christie's aides took responsibility, were recently convicted and may go to jail.

Pence, by contrast, has an untarnished personal record and is now in a position to shape the Trump administration by pushing his preferred candidates into key positions. He's also low-key, patient, and a reconciler. For example, Trump has had a succession of rows with Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives. Each insulted the other during the campaign. Pence gets on well with both men, is already their go-between, and might become the peacemaker. He was a member of the House of Representatives for 12 years up to 2012, then governor of his home state, Indiana, for another four. He has worked with most of the leading Republicans, and has a reputation among them for hard work and ideological purity.

At a time when rumours abound that Trump is planning a hands-off presidency -- it's said he will spend a good amount of time in New York -- an intriguing question presents itself: how much else will be devolved to Pence? Might his duties include running the American government?

Pence was born in 1959 in the Indiana town of Columbus, population 45,000, graduated from a small religious college, attended law school and made his name as a conservative radio commentator, once describing himself as 'Rush Limbaugh on decaf'. Catholic by birth, with Irish ancestors, he became a born-again Christian in his teens, claiming that evangelical Protestantism gave him, for the first time, the chance to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. …

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