by Joshua MELVIN
Vice President Mike Pence has been the calm to Donald Trump’s storm, bringing a sedate demeanor and the religious, conservative ballast key to their odd-couple pairing.
But it was not enough to win the men four more years in the White House.
And with US media on Saturday calling the race for Joe Biden, the focus on Pence will increasingly turn to the question of whether Trump’s loyal lieutenant will himself seek the presidency in 2024 — and whether his unswerving attachment to the president might help or hinder such an attempt.
From the start of Trump’s 2016 candidacy, Pence was a lure for a part of the Republican base dubious of a thrice-married reality TV star from New York.
He was a source of stability in an administration that steadily churned through top officials.
After Trump publicly bellows and tweets controversy, Pence has often been called in to privately smooth things over while never expressing overt disagreement with the president.
Republicans have characterized Pence’s approach as the work of a loyal deputy, but critics have branded him a servile “sycophant-in-chief” more interested in keeping his job.
A lawyer by training and former radio talk-show host who served in Congress for 12 years, Pence was plucked from his post as Indiana governor by Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Now 61, he brought credibility among Republicans as a traditional evangelical Christian who could appeal to churchgoing Americans and farm-belt conservatives.
He’s been the yin to the president’s yang: where Trump has played the unorthodox outsider, Pence has been reserved and courteous; where Trump regularly flouts tradition, Pence is deeply pious.
Born June 7, 1959 in Columbus, Indiana, he grew up idolizing liberal icons like John F. Kennedy before veering right in adulthood.
Pence is staunchly anti-abortion and as Indiana governor signed into law some of the nation’s strictest restrictions on terminating pregnancies.
“I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” Pence has said.
Trump has had three wives and many more girlfriends, but Pence is famous for his self-imposed proscription on being alone with any woman who is not his wife.
“Trump’s got the populist nationalists,” former Trump aide Steve Bannon told the New Yorker. “But Pence is the base. Without Pence, you don’t win.”
– Pence 2024? –
After taking office, Pence let Trump hold the entire stage.
He toiled quietly, liaising with Congress and Republicans and undertaking significant diplomatic missions.
And he adapted his earlier political stances to Trump’s antagonistic approach to trade, diplomatic relations and immigration.
In early trips to Europe and Asia, he set the stage for Trump’s policy resets while reassuring allies worried about the president’s threats.
One of his highest profile moments was the vice presidential debate against Kamala Harris, but that largely civil showdown will mostly be remembered for the fly that landed on Pence’s immaculate white hair — sending social media into meme meltdown.
Pence has remained a team player, never betraying differences with Trump or promoting himself — sins that cut short the careers of others in Trump’s cabinet.
That didn’t change in March, when Pence was named as the public face of the White House coronavirus task force.
Echoing Pence’s own personality, the scientist-heavy group’s daily briefings sought to introduce calm, clarity and rigor to public information — until Trump hijacked them and undermined their messages about social distancing, face masks and treatments.
Pence’s motive has never been clear. Has he been biding his time, as many vice presidents do, for his own shot at the presidency?
Or does he tolerate Trump, like many Republicans, for his ability to advance the social conservatives’ agenda?
Earlier this year, there was speculation that Trump — facing a fierce fight for reelection — would replace Pence with someone who might excite more voters, such as former UN ambassador Nikki Haley or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
In the end, the odd couple stuck together, with Trump hailing his number two as “solid as a rock” in August.