Pence continues to take heat for his dogged fealty to Trump. Michael D’Antonio and Peter Eisner, the authors of the new book The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence, call him a “toady.” George Will, the conservative columnist who’s openly rooting for a Democratic midterm sweep, calls Pence “America’s most repulsive public figure.” When Pence stands behind Trump, rotely nodding at the latest pearls of Trumpian wisdom, he sometimes conjures images of a bobblehead doll, the kind kids get for free at ballparks.
But there is a calculated method to his muteness. The era of vice-presidential irrelevance is long gone, John Nance Garner’s description of the job as “a bucket of warm spit” is veritably antique, and Pence is certainly a far more potent character than the first of Indiana’s five veeps, Schuyler Colfax, who was dumped by Ulysses S. Grant and ultimately dropped dead at a railroad station. Nobody knew who it was until someone searched the body for identification.
Pence is carefully positioning himself for power, even as he suffers indignities—perhaps most infamously in May 2017, when he publicly insisted, on four separate occasions, that Trump had fired FBI director James Comey only because Justice Department leaders had supposedly urged Trump to do so, and because it was “based solely on the commitment to the best interests of the American people.” Pence made that quoted remark on May 10. On May 11, Trump yanked the rug from beneath Pence’s feet. He told NBC News that he’d fired Comey to reduce heat from the Russia probe: “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.”
But while Pence endures embarrassment and plays the loyal soldier, he is slowly building his own political organization—including the Great America Committee, the first time a veep early in his first term has formed a PAC—and collecting IOUs from campaigning Republicans, all in preparation for the potential day of ascent. It’s ironic—some would call it darkly comedic—that a conservative Christian moralist was rescued from an imperiled Indiana governorship by a man of manifestly shaky morals, and that he now stands ready to benefit from their odd coupling (his allies say, “Mike will be ready”), but that’s politics. Or perhaps it is God’s will.
The biographers D’Antonio and Eisener say that Pence believes the latter. They cite his favorite Bible verse: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” They cite Pence’s oft-quoted description of himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” Indeed, they write: “Some may laugh, but many conservative Christians believe that God is merely using Trump to prepare the way for a so-called true man of faith.”
And it’s precisely his evangelical certitude that animates the ongoing argument, among Trump’s vociferous critics, over whether America would be better served with Pence in the White House. It’s a bit of a parlor game, since Trump has signaled that he does not intend to leave earlier than January 2025, but it becomes more fervent whenever Mueller issues indictments or New York prosecutors coax Trump insiders to cooperate.