President-elect Donald Trump has made it clear that Vice President-elect Mike Pence will have a major role in governing. He recently tapped Pence to take over leadership of his transition planning from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Pence spent the day Tuesday at Trump Tower as the two men select key members of their administration.
It’s hard to imagine two men with more different personalities and backgrounds. Trump — with his brand name and background in real estate — was an unconventional candidate from the beginning. Pence, meanwhile, is a far more recognizable Republican, who is known for introducing himself as “a basic guy” and “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”
Pence’s reputation as a staunch social conservative who’s opposed to abortion rights and same-sex marriage helped reassure nervous members of the party base. From that first day, Trump promised that Pence — the sitting governor of Indiana with a decade of experience in Congress before that — would help him govern.
At a news conference in July in New York City, Trump introduced Pence as his running mate and promised the Indiana governor would be his “partner” in both the campaign and the White House.
Vice presidents are often relegated to the background, and Pence’s low-key personality might suggest he would experience the same. He made few headlines during the campaign — perhaps the biggest when his plane skidded off a runway upon landing at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
The two men have differed at times not just on tone, but on policy. Even so, Pence has unflinchingly defended and promoted Trump throughout the campaign. On election night, it was Pence who introduced Trump to the world as the new president-elect of the United States.
“The American people have spoken and the American people have elected their new champion,” Pence told the exuberant crowd gathered at a Hilton hotel in Midtown Manhattan.
As Pence noted with this self-deprecating joke at the Republican National Convention, he and Trump couldn’t be more different in their styles: “You know, he’s a man known for a large personality, a colorful style and lots of charisma,” Pence joked. “And so, I guess he was just looking for some balance on the ticket.”
But Trump seems to be positioning Pence to do some heavy lifting while the incoming president crafts the vision. In an interview soon after the election, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that Pence will play a “big role,” handling policy areas including health care and serving as a “liaison” to Congress. Trump noted Pence’s friendship with House Speaker Paul Ryan, a leader Trump has had a sometimes-tense relationship with.
Ryan introduced Pence at the Republican convention as a “good friend.”
“I’ve watched this man up close. I’ve seen what he’s made of. Let me tell you something about Mike Pence. This is a man of solid character,” Ryan said.
Back home in Indiana, Pence is also popular with leading Republicans, like state Sen. Brandt Hershman, who describes him as genuine and well-liked.
“Mike is a known quantity on the Hill, and has a great deal of experience — but I think it speaks more to him as a person,” Hershman said.
As the majority floor leader in the Indiana State Senate, Hershman watched Pence navigate the controversy over so-called religious freedom legislation. Pence supported the proposal, which was criticized as discriminatory by LGBT advocates. He later caught flak from conservative religious groups for supporting an amendment aimed at toning down some aspects of the bill.
Hershman said Pence earned a reputation as a good listener: “I saw the people going in and out of his office sharing their views, and obviously those views were oftentimes very divergent, and I don’t think anybody walked out of the office angry with Mike Pence.”
In the wake of a divisive election, calming tempers on all sides may be a big task for President-elect Trump’s right-hand man.