Written by Chris Walker (@cwlkr20)
As we round into year three of the Trump presidency, I’ve long had a nagging question about this administration. It’s not whether or not he’ll get impeached or how Trump plans to get the wall on the Southern border. The president casts a long shadow, mainly because he announces whatever idea he has on Twitter in real time, so nothing goes unnoticed. He reveals his actions openly, but that leaves me more interested in Vice President Mike Pence. By comparison, he’s quiet, and I’m always a little surprised when I see him. It’s like he just comes out of his office to try and put out a fire, then disappears. So, what is he up to?
I mean, I know who he is. Pence is a husband and father of three. He is a former congressman and governor from Indiana. Pence has been in politics since the late ’90s and has presented himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.” I’ve researched his positions before and found him to be a standard Christian conservative — anti-abortion, anti-same-sex marriage, an A rating from the NRA. Nonetheless, this is not his job description and his expected duties.
Which is the question behind the question: What do VPs do? Are they just mascots on foreign trips the president doesn’t want to go on? Or are they the scapegoats for Congress? The basic definition is that they’re the president in waiting in case the president is unable to perform the job. In addition, the VP presides over the Senate, and only votes to break a tie.
However, compared to the work of recent VPs, it’s a limited characterization. When you look at Dick Cheney, you see an advisor for President George W. Bush, who was actively involved in the work of the executive branch. The former Secretary of Defense, under President George H.W. Bush, was a vocal proponent of the War on Iraq, the U.S. response to the 9/11 attacks, and was generally given the last word to the President on a variety of policies, especially those involving the presidential office.
This brings us back to the question at hand: what does Pence do? He’s not Cheney by any measure, but he has been trying to work with what influence his position and previous experience brings. Pence has also represented the country abroad at the Olympics and on other foreign trips the President may or may not want to attend. Within the basic definition, he has been an active Senate president, having already broken 13 ties, higher than his four recent predecessors combined. Mainly, he has pushed through the laws and nominations for the President, starting with the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.
In accord, he has worked as a linking point for congressional Republicans and the Trump office, which has proven to be a tough task, since Trump can undermine him at any time. Look at the current government shutdown: Pence has been the focal point between Congress and this administration, trying to get the shutdown to end. With every offer Pence makes, the inability to come together shows how much power the VP actually has.
Pence has also consistently stood by Trump, and hasn’t really thrown him under the bus. The man recently compared Donald Trump to Martin Luther King, Jr. on CBS’ Face the Nation, which is a stretch comparison, but a high compliment. Some people have described the relationship as a one-sided bromance, complete with Trump’s questioning of Pence’s loyalty and murmurs that Trump would drop Pence, but no action yet.
Which makes the idea that Pence is angling to become president one day more interesting. There is literature on the subject that compounds the idea Pence is waiting out his time, ready to take over if President Trump is impeached or just does not run in 2020, as well as what President Pence would look like. Never forget, the man started a political action committee in 2017 and has a relationship with the Koch brothers, the peak of the Republican donor class. He has denied this intention, but it is in the zeitgeist and could come off as a shrewd move on his part.
Altogether, it appears that Pence is an advocate for the president and his mission. The Vice President was brought on since his political experience and knowledge exceed Trump’s. At the same time, he does not appear to have the same influence as his predecessors, for better or worse. As we come upon another election cycle, I wonder: if the Trump/Pence ticket is successful, will Pence step up to make a bigger mark on the administration and U.S. history as a whole? Or will he continue to just be President Trump’s biggest cheerleader and right-hand man?