The devil’s deal that Mike Pence couldn’t escape | ET REALITY


Mike Pence’s decision to end his presidential campaign on Saturday was a bow to what had finally become inevitable. He was struggling to raise money, gain support from the party’s base and manage the torments of the man who had made him nationally famous, Donald J. Trump.

But the root of the collapse of his campaign (and, quite possibly, his political career) dates back to 2016, when Pence accepted Trump’s offer to be his running mate.

“He was completely wrong,” said the Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical clergyman and former leader of the anti-abortion movement who gave ministerial advice to Pence 20 years ago but later turned against him because of his affiliation. with Mr. Trump. “This ended up being disastrous for his political career.”

The two men were not close before Trump’s decision to put Pence on the list. In many ways, beyond sharing a party affiliation, they couldn’t have been more different.

Pence was the governor of Indiana, an evangelical Christian (he titled his memoir “So Help Me God”) who grew up in the rolling farmlands of Indiana. He had endorsed one of Trump’s main opponents, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. And his friends said he was bewildered by the carefree ways of Trump, a Queens-born playboy businessman and casino owner who had prospered in the Democratic world of New York.

But Pence was facing a difficult re-election campaign against a Democrat he had narrowly defeated in 2012. His advisers said he was also drawn into the presidential race by the prospect of a place on the national stage, positioning himself to potentially be vice president. or a strong presidential candidate in 2020 if Trump were to lose to Hillary Clinton, the Democrat, something polls suggested was likely.

After a few days of consideration (and speaking with his wife, Karen, consulting political advisers and friends, and spending time in prayer, he says), Pence accepted Trump’s offer.

It was an agreement that, on Saturday morning in Las Vegas, when a former vice president was forced to drop out of the presidential race without even reaching the Iowa caucuses, Pence had almost certainly come to regret.

He had never learned to manage his relationship with Trump, to navigate the deep cultural and personal differences between a taciturn Midwestern governor and a flashy New Yorker who never followed the rules of politics that had governed Pence’s career.

After more than a decade in Congress, a term as governor and another as vice president, Pence, 64, is, it appears, entering the darkest period of his public life since he was elected to Congress from the Second District. of Indiana in 2001.

His decision to break with Trump after the Jan. 6 raid on the Capitol and his challenge to his former boss for the nomination in 2024 angered the former president and alienated the Trump supporters who define the party today. But Pence’s four years of loyalty to Trump while vice president ultimately made it impossible for him to win over voters eager to turn the page on Trump’s presidency.

His decision to align himself with Trump came in June 2016, when a mutual associate of the two men, an Indiana insurance industry executive named Steve Hilbert, called Pence to see if he would consider an offer to join Trump. Pence, who was in the midst of an effort to recover from a potentially ruinous misstep he had made the previous year, was open to the idea.

Pence had signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which effectively authorized businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples, such as Christian businesses that did not want to offer same-sex wedding celebrations. It set off a firestorm of protests, prompting threats of boycotts from business leaders and sports teams across the country. The protest took Pence by surprise and put his political future in doubt.

“Even our critics, who said we should have seen it coming, didn’t see it coming,” said Jim Atterholt, then Pence’s chief of staff. “To be fair to the governor, this was not on his agenda, he was not pushing for it. But obviously, it was consistent with the governor’s philosophy in terms of protecting religious freedom.”

Pence spent much of the next year talking about state issues such as education and taxes, traversing Indiana on what he described as a listening tour as he sought to put the religious freedom bill behind him and devote himself to his re-election campaign.

“Mike was a wounded incumbent,” said Tim Phillips, a conservative activist who was a close friend and adviser to Pence. “I think he would have won that race if it had been a good presidential cycle. But it wasn’t as if he was moving toward an easy re-election and a future presidential bid in 2020.”

If Pence had any qualms when Trump approached him, he never expressed it publicly or even to many of his advisers. “Mike sent a message that said, ‘If you call me to serve, I will,’” Atterholt said. “Mike was willing to serve, but he was fully planning for re-election.”

And there were other reasons why the offer was tempting. Pence had never made any secret of his ambitions to run for president one day, having seriously considered it that year. Win or lose, a campaign with Trump would put him near the front of the line, or so he thought. And Republicans who were concerned about Trump, and particularly the attention he would pay as president to the evangelical issues that animated Pence, urged him to do so.

“There was a genuine and significant role for the vice president to play for Trump,” Phillips said. “The evangelical right and the conservative right were very uncomfortable with Trump. “Having a Sherpa who could guide him and give him credibility with Trump, that really mattered in 2016.”

Today, nearly eight years later, having served as Trump’s vice president before turning against him, Pence’s brief campaign is a testament to the unintended consequences of that decision. Despite all the kind words his opponents said about him after he dropped out, “I have no doubt that Mike and Karen will continue to serve this nation and honor the Lord in everything they do,” said one of his old rivals, Tim Scott. His own future is now uncertain.

Schenck said he had always been disappointed that Pence, a man with whom he said he had prayed and read Scripture, had aligned himself with a man whom Schenck called the “diametric opposite” of the moral leader he and Pence often talked about. .

“There must have come a point where Mike thought, ‘I can beat Donald Trump or I can overcome his immorality,’” Schenck said. “He has had to make too many adaptations and adjustments. “It could have been fatal for his leadership.”

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