Mike Pence's plan to outlast Trump

Now familiar as a smiling, nodding presence at the President's side, Mike Pence was little known outside of ...

Posted: Aug 30, 2018 10:37 AM
Updated: Aug 30, 2018 10:37 AM

Now familiar as a smiling, nodding presence at the President's side, Mike Pence was little known outside of his home state of Indiana when Donald Trump selected him as his running mate in 2016. A bit more than two years later, as he crisscrosses America to campaign for Republicans in the midterm elections, Pence is setting himself up to replace his boss if Trump leaves office early or does not seek re-election.

"Mike will be ready" is the line Pence's aides and allies use as they contemplate his place in a post-Trump world.

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Pence would never admit this. He plays the part of unctuous toady so fully that the conservative writer George Will called him "America's most repulsive public figure." But don't be fooled. The vice president is doggedly pursuing his own ambitions on the side. The Oval Office has been his goal since high school. He has seeded the federal government with his loyalists and is building his own nationwide political organization.

He is acting, in fact, as if he is on a mission from God. Some may laugh, but many conservative Christians believe that God is merely using Trump to prepare the way for a so-called true man of faith. Pence's rise to power would affirm the "Cyrus prophecy," which became a popular notion among Christian right circles when Pence joined the 2016 ticket.

Cyrus was a Persian king whom the Old Testament credits with returning the Jews to Jerusalem. He was a pagan who nevertheless served God. Right-wing evangelists such as Lance Wallnau cited that tale in 2016 when they declared that Trump -- a profane and sinful man -- could nevertheless do God's work and was thus worthy of conservative Christian votes. An estimated 80% of white evangelicals gave Trump their votes.

The story of Cyrus resonates with many right-wing Christians because they imagine themselves to be persecuted like the Jews of old. Despite their vast wealth, power and numbers, these believers cite developments such as same-sex marriage and the use of ecumenical phrases such as "happy holidays," instead of Merry Christmas, as evidence they are a minority under siege. They imagine themselves to be victims of a culture war and feel that something must be done to defend an old order that they once dominated.

As a radio host, member of Congress and then governor of Indiana, Pence made himself the most successful conservative Christian politician of his generation. Indeed he says he is "a Christian, a conservative and a Republican in that order."

During 12 years in Congress he never authored a single bill, but he did become a prominent advocate for banning abortion, defunding Planned Parenthood and restricting marriage only to heterosexual couples. In his one term as governor he overstepped when he signed a bill -- the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act -- permitting discrimination against gay people, and was forced to seek a change in the law.

His rhetoric attacking abortion rights, adultery and even evolution (he says he doesn't believe in it) assured the Christian right that he was one of them.

When Trump offered Pence his spot on the ticket, the Republican Party's evangelical wing was over the moon. Pence was also a first-term governor facing a tough battle for re-election despite a longstanding and substantial GOP advantage in voter registration. His outspoken support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act had alienated some centrist Republicans and, though Pence was genial enough, he was not the kind of campaigner who got folks fired up.

Offered a path out of struggling obscurity in Indiana, Pence didn't need a Bible prophecy to tell him it was OK to take the leap. He hitched his pious ambitions to a crude, twice-divorced, self-confessed sexual predator whose grasp of faith and Scripture appears nonexistent.

Pence's favorite Bible verse reads: "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." He cites it when he discusses the opportunities that come his way, and to explain the confidence he brings to politics.

Pence's theology says that God selects in advance which individuals will become believers and rewards their faith regardless of what they do. This belief allows for all sorts of bad behavior, if it can be framed as supporting the ultimate goal of promoting the evangelical agenda.

Pence's loyalty to the President, even after the "Access Hollywood" tape exposed Trump as a serial sexual harasser, baffled many. It was reported at the time that Pence considered trying to replace Trump at the top of the ticket, but in the end he held his place and his tongue. Pence's religion explains that choice, and his decision to abandon many of his previous positions on the issues, such as his opposition to banning Muslim visitors to America.

To understand how a seemingly pious politician such as Pence could join Trump and stick with him requires tracing the long path of his ambition. Pence wasn't always the rigidly moralistic and confident conservative evangelical he professes to be today. But he was, from the beginning of his adult life, a man who thought he was destined for the presidency.

This article is the first in a series of three by Michael D'Antonio and Peter Eisner, the authors of the new book, "The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence."

An earlier version of this op-ed incorrectly indicated that President Trump was thrice divorced. He has been divorced twice.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 482902

Reported Deaths: 9425
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33063488
Hinds31021589
DeSoto30610358
Jackson23687348
Rankin21340370
Lee14909220
Madison14166271
Jones13404227
Forrest13160240
Lauderdale11601305
Lowndes10443176
Lamar10214130
Pearl River9098221
Lafayette8241137
Hancock7514112
Washington7102150
Oktibbeha6964124
Monroe6514164
Neshoba6475201
Warren6464164
Pontotoc630393
Panola6250126
Marshall6126123
Bolivar6115144
Union574186
Pike5613136
Alcorn537290
Lincoln5303131
George471472
Scott459196
Leflore4476140
Prentiss446779
Tippah446480
Itawamba4444100
Adams4416116
Tate4394101
Simpson4335112
Wayne433066
Copiah431787
Yazoo423386
Covington415792
Sunflower4148104
Marion4099104
Leake397586
Coahoma3957100
Newton370875
Grenada3556104
Stone350860
Tishomingo336289
Attala325387
Jasper314162
Winston304691
Clay296473
Chickasaw287065
Clarke282190
Calhoun266141
Holmes262187
Smith250649
Yalobusha221047
Tallahatchie220450
Walthall211058
Greene209045
Lawrence206833
Perry199953
Amite198452
Webster196542
Noxubee178939
Montgomery172454
Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162137
Tunica153334
Benton142535
Kemper138640
Choctaw127026
Claiborne126834
Humphreys126637
Franklin116728
Quitman103926
Wilkinson101936
Jefferson91333
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1926
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 787421

Reported Deaths: 14022
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1114521765
Mobile708161234
Madison49744633
Baldwin36201495
Shelby36186315
Tuscaloosa33818548
Montgomery33135678
Lee22590220
Calhoun21140410
Morgan19795335
Etowah19188462
Marshall17659274
Houston16788386
St. Clair15408305
Cullman14568258
Limestone14553188
Elmore14444264
Lauderdale13486281
Talladega12932236
DeKalb12174237
Walker10561330
Blount9693157
Autauga9652137
Jackson9363158
Coffee8847175
Dale8584173
Colbert8508184
Tallapoosa6661181
Escambia6585121
Covington6432167
Chilton6372144
Russell605355
Franklin5779101
Chambers5398134
Marion4789120
Dallas4694189
Clarke462279
Pike461597
Geneva4396117
Winston425295
Lawrence4112108
Bibb408581
Barbour346570
Marengo326285
Butler318190
Monroe318153
Randolph305256
Pickens304474
Henry301358
Hale292285
Cherokee289455
Fayette279073
Washington245248
Crenshaw237970
Cleburne235251
Clay228365
Macon219258
Lamar196243
Conecuh181846
Lowndes170758
Coosa169935
Wilcox159736
Bullock149243
Perry136437
Sumter124436
Greene121243
Choctaw73427
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