Vice President Mike Pence traveled through Latin America in August at a time when Venezuela was erupting with unrest. In April, Pence visited ally South Korea and stood on its border with its menacing neighbor to warn North Korea after a recent missile test that “the era of strategic patience is over.” And, in February, it was Pence who, at the Munich Security Conference, reassured America’s NATO allies.
“Pence can talk to Trump and Capitol Hill. He speaks both languages,” @CraigSBPA says.
But on the domestic front, and often behind the scenes, Pence’s role in the Trump administration is even more significant, say White House officials and policy advocates who work with the White House. Though very different in temperament and personality, Pence and President Donald Trump are genuinely close, observers say.
The president and vice president talk several times each day, as do their chiefs of staff, a senior White House official told The Daily Signal.
It’s clear how close Trump and Pence are, said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life advocacy group, having observed them during time spent in the White House.
“They are so different, yet so complementary, that they can each trust one to do what the other can’t,” Dannenfelser told The Daily Signal.
Before he was elected governor of Indiana in 2012, Pence served five terms in the House of Representatives beginning in 2003, and now serves as the point man for working with Congress.
“This office of the vice president is different than ones that came before it, because he is the vice president and chief lobbyist,” Dannenfelser said. “Trump needs and wants Pence in that position. Pence is the quarterback.”
Given the public rift between Trump and Republican leaders in Congress, that role could become more critical, said presidential historian Craig Shirley.
“Pence can talk to Trump and Capitol Hill. He speaks both languages,” Shirley told The Daily Signal.
Asked if the rift elevates the importance of Pence’s relationship with Congress, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Pence will play a pivotal role in working with congressional leaders “no matter what the circumstances are.”
“He’s certainly always going to be an important part of the process of moving legislation forward on whatever that circumstance is, or whatever the matter is,” Sanders told The Daily Signal at a press briefing. “He is probably one of the best advocates here at the White House and certainly somebody that the president has a great deal of trust in, and is happy to have him on his team.”
After the exit last week of chief strategist Steve Bannon, the widely reported factions within the top Trump White House staff came front and center as a topic of Washington chatter.
But for all the palace intrigue that attracts news media attention, Pence has essentially worked as an honest broker to bring advisers together to ensure Trump is presented with the best options for decision-making on the issues, said a senior White House official who spoke to The Daily Signal.
Pence seems to be genuinely loyal to the president, said Shirley, the presidential historian. But his political clout will likely increase as Trump faces more problems.
“As Trump’s problems continue, as his legislative agenda is going nowhere, his political power will wane, and Pence’s political power—not constitutional power, but political power—will wax, even if that isn’t what the vice president wants,” Shirley added.
In some cases, Pence might have been unfairly “snared up” with the Republican-controlled Congress’ inability to move legislation so far, said David Bozell, president of ForAmerica, a conservative advocacy group.
“From my interactions with the vice president and his staff, you leave a meeting with them and want to match their effort,” Bozell told The Daily Signal. “He is all class in how he represents the president in public, and where it counts, in private.”
Though the two men are in some ways an odd couple, Pence serves as needed balance for Trump in terms of reaching out to Capitol Hill and speaking in a different tone, said Gary L. Rose, a political science professor at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, and author of the recently published book “Haywire: A Chronology of the 2016 Presidential Contest.”
“After the president’s tweets or speeches, Pence does a good job in smoothing out the rough spots,” Rose told The Daily Signal. “It’s been less than a year, but so far, it seems he’s unlike other vice presidents that have taken a back seat and are inconsequential. Pence is very, very critical to this president.”
Pence seems to have a larger role than Vice President Joe Biden had during President Barack Obama’s administration, though not quite as big as that of Vice President Dick Cheney under President George W. Bush, the Sacred Heart professor said.
Rose said Pence has a comparable role to that of Vice President Walter Mondale, the Washington-insider vice president to outsider President Jimmy Carter. Both Mondale and Pence served as the bridge for strained relations with Capitol Hill.
Other parallels are Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who used his established clout in the Senate to push through some of President John Kennedy’s early agenda, Rose added.
On a different front, Vice President Spiro Agnew provided reassurance to conservatives with regard to the more moderate President Richard Nixon, the political science professor noted. However, in something of a role reversal compared with Trump and Pence, with Nixon and Agnew, the president was the more traditional politician, while the vice president was known for being a rhetorical bomb thrower.
“Pence is not Trump’s hatchet man, as Agnew was for Nixon, but he does placate the conservative wing of the party,” Rose said.
He said he believes Pence’s denials of the rumors he’s plotting a 2020 Oval Office run, but said Pence is likely laying the groundwork for a presidential run for 2024.
On another historical note, the vice president likely played a more significant role in Trump’s surprising 2016 victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton than past vice presidential choices, Rose added.
“Vice presidential picks usually only contribute a small portion of support for a presidential candidate,” Rose said. “I can’t say with certainty Pence brought on a huge amount of votes, but even the small percentage he brought on board was very critical.”
A significant portion of Republican primary voters didn’t back Trump because of the New York businessman’s perceived lack of conservative credentials, said Lee Edwards, distinguished fellow in conservative thought at The Heritage Foundation.
“Mike Pence played a vital role in the campaign of reassuring the conservative voters that Trump was enough of a conservative,” Edwards told The Daily Signal. “He’s not just the clean-up guy. He has a much more substantial role.”