Six years before Mike Pence worked to put Donald Trump in the White House, became his vice president, and proceeded to lavish praise on his job performance, the Indiana politician gave a formal speech on the presidency. What did Pence think were the qualities a good president should possess, speaking from behind the veil of ignorance, when he did not yet know what sort of man would afford him the best opportunity to radically enhance his own political fortune?
By way of explaining, he told an anecdote about Calvin Coolidge, who lost a 16-year-old son while in the White House and thereafter declared, “When he went, the power and glory of the presidency went with him.” In Pence’s estimation, “There is no finer, more moving, or more profound understanding of the nature of the presidency and the command of humility placed upon it.” Thus, his standard for judging a president:
A sensibility such as this, and not power, is the source of presidential dignity, and must be restored. It depends entirely upon character, self-discipline, and an understanding of the fundamental principles that underlie not only the republic, but life itself. It communicates that the president feels the gravity of his office and is willing to sacrifice himself; that his eye is not upon his own prospects but on the storm of history, through which he must navigate with the specific powers accorded to him and the limitations placed on those powers both by man and by God.
President Trump does not strike anyone as a man who is willing to sacrifice himself; if Americans were ranked by that metric, he might be last. Power, however, seems very much a part of his sensibility.