The Improbable Pence


From McKay Coppins at The Atlantic:

He’ll be witnessing to evangelicals at a mega-church, or addressing conservative supporters at a rally, and when the moment comes for him to pass along the president’s well-wishes, the words are invariably accompanied by an amused little chuckle that prompts knowing laughter from the attendees. It’s almost as if, in that brief, barely perceptible moment, Pence is sending a message to those with ears to hear—that he recognizes the absurdity of his situation; that he knows just what sort of man he’s working for; that while things may look bad now, there is a grand purpose at work here, a plan that will manifest itself in due time. Let not your hearts be troubled, he seems to be saying. I’ve got this

Just a year earlier, he was an embattled small-state governor with underwater approval ratings, dismal reelection prospects, and a national reputation in tatters. In many ways, Pence was on the same doomed trajectory as the conservative-Christian movement he’d long championed—once a political force to be reckoned with, now a battered relic of the culture wars…

In Pence, Trump has found an obedient deputy whose willingness to suffer indignity and humiliation at the pleasure of the president appears boundless…

“If you’re Mike Pence, and you believe what he believes, you know God had a plan,” says Ralph Reed, an evangelical power broker and a friend of the vice president’s…

The Pences were devout Irish-Catholic Democrats, and Mike and his brothers served as altar boys at St. Columba Catholic Church…

It was obvious to his fraternity brothers, Murphy told me, that Pence wanted to be president one day…

“Somewhere in the midst of all that genuine humility and good feeling, this is a guy who’s got that ambition,” Murphy told me. And he wondered, “Is Mike’s religiosity a way of justifying that ambition to himself?”..

Despite his conversion to evangelical Christianity in college, he married his wife, Karen, in a Catholic ceremony and until the mid‑’90s periodically referred to himself as an “evangelical Catholic.”..

n 1992, he debuted a conservative talk-radio show that he described as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.” The quaint joke belied the meticulousness with which Pence went about building his local media empire. “He knew exactly what he wanted his brand to be and who his audience was,” says Ed Feigenbaum, the publisher of a state-politics tip sheet, whom Pence often consulted.  Most of his listeners were “retirees and conservative housewives,” Feigenbaum says, and Pence carefully catered to them. Over the next eight years, he expanded his radio show to 18 markets, started hosting a talk show on a local TV station, launched a proto-blog, and published a newsletter, “The Pence Report,” which locals remember primarily for its frequent typos and Pence’s lovingly drawn political cartoons…

He was known to pray with his staffers, and often cited scripture to explain his votes. In a 2002 interview with Congressional Quarterly, for example, he explained, “My support for Israel stems largely from my personal faith. In the Bible, God promises Abraham, ‘Those who bless you I will bless, and those who curse you I will curse.’ ”..

Then, in early 2015, Pence stumbled into a culture-war debacle that would come to define his governorship. At the urging of conservative-Christian leaders in Indiana, the GOP-controlled state legislature passed a bill that would have allowed religious business owners to deny services to gay customers in certain circumstances. ..

“Many evangelicals were experiencing the sense of an almost existential threat,” Russell Moore, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, told me. It was only a matter of time, he said, before cultural elites’ scornful attitudes would help drive Christians into the arms of a strongman like Trump. “I think there needs to be a deep reflection on the left about how they helped make this happen.”..

Trump had formed an opinion of the Indiana governor as prudish, stiff, and embarrassingly poor, according to one longtime associate. Pence, meanwhile, had spent the primaries privately shaking his head at Trump’s campaign-trail antics, and had endorsed Senator Ted Cruz for the nomination. But as the two men played golf, Pence asked what his job description would be if they wound up in the White House together. Trump gave him the same answer he’d been dangling in front of other prospective running mates for weeks: He wanted “the most consequential vice president ever.” Pence was sold…

Campaign operatives discovered that anytime Trump did something outrageous or embarrassing, they could count on Pence to clean it up…

It was the kind of performance—a blur of half-truths and “whatabout”s and lies—that could make a good Christian queasy…

He was genuinely shocked by the Access Hollywood tape…

Karen in particular was “disgusted,” says a former campaign aide. “She finds him reprehensible—just totally vile.”..

As one former adviser marveled, “The number of compromises he made to get this job, when you think about it, is pretty staggering.”..

In 2011, a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” By 2016, that number had risen to 72 percent…

Pastor Mark Burns—a South Carolina televangelist who was among the first to sign on as a faith adviser to Trump—told me Pence’s role in the administration is like that of Jesus, who once miraculously calmed a storm that was threatening to sink the boat on which he was traveling with his disciples…

“It’s not a matter of when Republicans are ready to turn on Trump,” the aide said. “It’s about when they decide they’re ready for President Pence.”

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