Vice president-elect Mike Pence’s increasingly influential role in putting a Trump administration together is delighting social conservatives, who say the second in command’s conservative values have allayed fears about the top of the ticket.
President-elect Donald Trump announced Friday that Pence will lead his presidential transition team, amid expectations that the Indiana governor and former congressman will play an outsize role in the Trump administration, given the incoming president’s lack of government experience.
“This isn’t Donald’s world, it’s Mike’s world,” Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, said of governing. “It’s encouraging to us. Mike will help him navigate this world from the same point of view we would.”
Though Pence has been a congressional leader and a chief executive himself, he’s unlikely to chafe in the shadow of the former reality TV star, Perkins said.
“That’s hard for a leader to do, to take a back seat. But Mike has the humility that allows him to step behind the president,” said Perkins, who has known Pence since Pence hosted a radio talk show two decades ago.
He’s going to raise the bar and set a new standard.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council
Former congressional colleagues say they’re confident that Pence took the job with the understanding from Trump that it would be one of influence. Vice presidents, including Dick Cheney and Joe Biden, have increasingly played a central role in governing, a decided upgrade for a job vice president John Nance Garner in the 1930s reportedly derided as “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” Cheney was George W. Bush’s transition chairman before he became vice president.
Biden’s office noted Thursday that he and Pence had met at the White House and talked about vice presidential duties, discussing “a number of specific policy portfolios” that had been a focus for Biden, including working with NATO and allies in Eastern Europe.
“He will have much to say in this administration,” said Marilyn Musgrave, vice president of government affairs at the anti-abortion group, the Susan B. Anthony List. Musgrave, a former Republican congresswoman from Colorado, served with Pence for three terms and said he’s as tenacious as he is polite.
“He wouldn’t want a position as a figurehead,” Musgrave said. “Good heavens, he was governor! Why would he leave that just to not have much of a role to play?”
Musgrave said she was confident Pence made it clear he wanted a significant portfolio as vice president and Trump “was smart enough to realize this was just what he needed.”
The anti-abortion community considers Pence a “best friend,” said Musgrave, who noted Pence pushed to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood before it was “cool.” Pence’s role in the administration, she said “will help the president-elect with people who were a little squeamish about him. People who wanted a conservative in the White House.”
Trump had the good instincts to know what he needed and he needed Mike Pence
Former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, vice president of government affairs at the Susan B. Anthony List.
Indeed, Trump’s choice of Pence was key to quelling much conservative unease about Trump’s commitment to the cause, said Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Virginia-based Liberty University.
Pence has often filled in where Trump has fallen short. In September, Pence delivered a full-throated declaration against legalized abortion on Trump’s behalf at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, a day after Trump failed even to mention the word “abortion” in his remarks to the group.
“Mike Pence is extremely popular with conservatives and I suspect he will play an active role as his vice president,” said Falwell, who hosted Pence at the evangelical college in October soon after the release of a 2005 tape that featured Trump boasting about forcing himself sexually on women.
At the college, Pence called for conservatives to forgive his running mate, saying he had shown humility with an apology.
Pence’s performance that day was flawless, Falwell said: “A gentleman with the perfect temperament to serve his president.”
Conservatives note the expectations are high: Trump had said that, if elected president, he would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion, by appointing conservative justices to the Supreme Court who oppose the procedure.
He has repeatedly vowed to “get rid of” the so-called “Johnson amendment,” a tax law provision that some religious groups and churches say infringes on their freedom of speech.
And it’s likely to be Pence who shoulders much of the nitty gritty legislating, said former Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican.
“Donald Trump is not a micro manager, he’s a vision guy,” Davis said. “Most of the details are going to Congress and Pence, as president of the Senate, also has a great relationship in the House with leadership and they’ll be writing the details.”
He said Trump is going to need Pence to work with Congress.
“They’re joined at the hip at this point,” he said. “They’re going to need to get things done. Trump will call the plays, but Pence and his team will run it.”