Gov. Mike Pence’s gamble paid off. After joining one of the most unconventional political campaigns in modern history, the Indiana Republican will be the nation’s next vice president.
“This is a historic night,” Pence told the crowed at the New York Hilton Midtown shortly before 3 a.m. Wednesday. “The American people have spoken. And the American people have elected their new champion.”
And Pence could become one of the more influential vice presidents because he has the Washington experience and connections Trump lacks.
“In many respects, Mike is the guy who is going to fill in all the blanks and help make many of the policy items of the conservative movement a reality,” said Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a close friend. “I think he would be one of the more active vice presidents possibly in the history of the republic, certainly in recent memory.”
Getting to the No. 2 job has been a long journey for a man who had to temporarily shelve his own presidential ambitions after a challenging first term as governor.
Pence faced a difficult re-election campaign when he agreed to be Donald Trump’srunning mate instead.
But the rocky rollout of that choice came amid reports that Trump wanted someone else.
The New York Post and CNN recently reported that Trump had first offered the job to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie before Trump’s then-campaign manager and his children maneuvered to change his mind.
And as the campaign progressed, Pence continued to be alternately overshadowed by Trump and called on to try to reshape Trump’s comments into positions more palatable to voters.
At a town hall event in North Carolina in early August, a young man named Matthew told Pence he’d been watching the news and “noticing that you’ve been kind of softening up on Mr. Trump’s policies and words.”
“Is this going to be your role in the administration?” he asked.
Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, said it’s not a problem that there were times Pence and Trump differed either on policies or how they explained their positions.
“Nobody doubts that Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket,” Schlapp said. “By the same token, Mike Pence has this governing experience which helps him understand the nuance of why a particular policy or a particular process is important.”
A former six-term congressman and member of House Republican leadership, Pence traveled to Capitol Hill during the campaign to assure lawmakers that Trump wanted “genuine collaboration” with them. Pence shared his cell phone number with lawmakers and urged everyone to use it.
“Mike has relationships both with the Senate and the House and a real grasp of the issues and the things that need to be dealt with on a policy basis,” said Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind.
He predicted Pence will end up being one of the most active vice presidents, similar to the role Dick Cheney played for George W. Bush.
Cheney attended Senate Republicans’ weekly gatherings, kept a well-staffed office in the Senate and was accessible for meetings.
“He was a real conduit to Bush because Bush had not had experience either,” Coats said of Trump’s lack of Washington experience.
Pence, himself, cited Cheney as his role model for the job in a September interview with ABC’s “This Week.”
“Vice President Cheney had experience in Congress as I do, and he was very active in working with members of the House and the Senate,” he said.
In addition to being a liaison to Congress, Pence is expected to continue a role he had in the campaign of tapping his deep roots with religious and social conservatives.
Pence promised to be their champion in the White House, particularly in fighting abortion and Planned Parenthood.
“Let me assure you the Trump/Pence administration will stand for the sanctity of life and defend the unborn from the first day that we take office,” he said in a speech at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit in September. “I want to live to see the day that we put the sanctity of life back at the center of American law and we send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history.”
Pence gave many Republicans unhappy with Trump a reason to vote for him. Even before a 2005 video of Trump bragging about grabbing women became public last month, many Christian conservatives were already uncomfortable with the thrice-married nominee.
Some critics said Pence provided a fig leaf that allowed Republicans to fool themselves into supporting Trump.
After the vice presidential debate, Washington Post conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote of the deeply religious Pence: “One comes away dismayed that Pence is willing to foist someone on the American people who exhibits contempt for Christian values.”
But he’s gotten plenty of praise as well.
“Mike Pence has earned a special part in Republican hearts for agreeing to join the ticket in the most unorthodox of campaigns, and to be part of the period of the campaign where their support grew and made the race much tighter,” said Schlapp of the ACU.
Trump campaign manager Kellyane Conway early Wednesday morning cited Pence as one of the reasons for Trump’s success.
Trump, however, thanked Pence almost as an afterthought at the end of his victory speech Wednesday.
Hensarling said Pence and Trump forged a good working relationship over the last three months, during which they spoke several times a day.
Trump was the quintessential outsider with the bold agenda.
“But sooner or later, that bold agenda has to be reduced into actual policy initiatives, legislative language and, ultimately, congressional passage,” Hensarling said.
Pence has worked in the policy arena for years and knows how Congress works.
“Let me put it this way,” Hensarling said. “He’ll be doing a whole lot more than flying around, attending funerals for foreign dignitaries.”