The Indiana governor and former congressman Mike Pence might seem, in many ways, Donald Trump’s opposite.
He voted to restrict Medicare from negotiating drug prices (which Trump supports) and was in favor of both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Trump has opposed the Iraq war during the campaign, though his position on Afghanistan is less clear).
And unlike the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who prefers more visceral appeals to voters, Pence is fond of saying: “I’m a conservative, but I’m not angry about it.”
Pence is said to be in the top two under consideration as a running mate for Trump in November’s general election. And on Tuesday night at a joint event in his home state, Pence gave the impression that he was a man who really wanted the job. Describing Trump as “a fighter, a builder and a patriot”, Pence said: “We will not rest, we will not relent, until we make this good man our president.”
If their opposing views on trade, healthcare and war seem to jar, Pence and Trump do have a few commonalities: in Pence’s unsuccessful second campaign for the House of Representatives in 1990, Federal Election Commission disclosures revealed that Pence was subsidizing his personal income with campaign contributions – to the tune of nearly $10,000, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis.
Pence, at the time, told the Chicago Tribune that he’d had to suspend his law practice to take a second run at the congressional seat, and that, according to campaign finance laws at the time, he was “completely legally right, and it is morally right for a man to provide for his family”. (Federal law still, in fact, allows candidates’ campaigns to pay them salaries, as long as they aren’t paid more than they earned immediately prior to their candidacies.
He added: “And there is a larger principle that, unless we can do this, then only the wealthy and the incumbent can run.”
The very wealthy Trump, of course, has faced repeated questions about his personal loans to his campaign, despite his promise to forgive those loans, as well as questions about payments by his campaign to his companies and family members – though he is not apparently paying himself a salary.
The similiarities don’t end there: like Trump, Pence was able to kickstart his political career with a stint in the media – first at the helm of The Mike Pence Show, eventually syndicated on 18 stations, and then as the host of a politically oriented weekend television show in Indianapolis. Both turns were credited with improving Pence’s name recognition in the district enough to help him win his seat in Congress in November 2000.
He was also aided by most major Republican leaders stumping for him in Indiana and was even given a chance to speak at the 2000 Republican national convention (a morning slot on the first day, and still his only stint at the podium).
The governor is perhaps best known nationally for his contortions after signing into a law a bill allowing for discrimination against LGBTI people on religious grounds. He then tried to obfuscate the bill’s effect, while still defending it and finally amending it.
Pence is described by some as a potential asset on the Trump ticket because he is trusted by pro-Israel conservatives. Any opposition research into Pence’s history with anti-Arab sentiment – during his 1990 campaign, the Chicago Tribune wires reported, he aired a commercial that “feature[d] a man dressed in a black robe, white headdress and sunglasses and speaking in a thick Middle Eastern accent … thanking Pence’s opponent, Rep. Phil Sharp, (D-Ind.) for doing nothing to wean the United States off imported oil” – would hardly change the mind of the candidate who has called for a halt to Muslim immigration. (Pence did criticize Trump’s blanket prohibition, but tried unsuccessfully to halt all Syrian immigration into Indiana.)
By Trumpian standards, a syndicated radio show on 18 channels and a two-minute speaking slot at the 2000 Republican convention might be considered low profile. But the Trump ticket doesn’t necessarily need more bombast, and even Trump has admitted that he’s looking for someone who can work with party leaders and win over the remainder of the still unconvinced party base.
Still, it’s hard to see the morality by which Pence attempted to redefine his public life after his political defeats in 1988 and 1990 finding much root in the obstreperous Trump campaign. In 1991, Pence wrote an article titled Confessions of a Negative Campaigner, calling for candidates to demonstrate “basic human decency” and suggesting that “your First Amendment rights end at the tip of your opponent’s nose – even in the matter of political rhetoric”. He also said: “A campaign ought to be about the advancement of issues whose success or failure is more significant than that of the candidate.”
More bombastically, on the eve of his third run for Congress, Pence took to the pages of the Saturday Evening Post in 1999 to suggest that the real reason people loved the blockbuster Titanic wasn’t the movie itself, but the deep recognition of the fact that the Titanic was a metaphor for an America “steaming away from the safe harbor of our best moral and religious traditions … full of the same unfounded confidence in our own ability to steer our own course without regard for those antiquated restraints”.
“We stand on the decks of our own modern sophistication and wave good-bye to the old-fashioned virtues of faith in God, marital fidelity, and the sanctity of life.” Pence’s hymn to the United States was written less than six weeks before Trump finalized his divorce from his second wife, Marla Maples, with whom he’d had an affair during his first marriage and whom he married after the birth of their daughter, Tiffany.