Brian Howey: Vice President-elect Mike Pence's Trump cigar
Friday, November 11, 2016 12:30 PM
NASHVILLE, Ind. – “Do you want to see something really cool?”
A century after former Indiana Gov. Thomas Marshall served as President Woodrow Wilson's vice president in a relationship filled with animosity, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence follows his footsteps with President-elect Donald Trump. One day Vice President Pence will affix his signature in the drawer of the Theodore Roosevelt desk along with other modern vice presidents at the Old Executive Office Building. Vice President Dick Cheney signs his name to the drawer in January 2009.
Sure. I was with Liz Murphy, an aide to Vice President Dan Quayle and we were in his ornate office at the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House.
We walked into an office similar in size and scope to the Indiana governor’s office at the Statehouse. We ended up before an antique colonial revival-style double-pedestal desk Theodore Roosevelt brought to the White House in 1903. It was one of six desks to once occupy the Oval Office. Murphy pulled open the desk drawer, which was empty, save for the signatures of vice presidents.
There were Nixon’s, Truman’s, George H.W. Bush, and of course Dan Quayle. I looked for Thomas R. Marshall’s, but the signature tradition didn’t begin until the 1940s.
Marshall served as Indiana governor a century before Mike Pence took over his old second floor Statehouse office. Whereas Pence was an ideologue, a caretaker governor, who saw the office as a stepping stone to the White House, Marshall was a progressive who attempted to rewrite the Indiana Constitution that would have increased the state’s regulatory powers considerably, set minimum wages, and gave constitutional protections to unions, all things Mike Pence opposes to this very day.
Marshall became President Woodrow Wilson’s veep and found the job stultifying. They disagreed on an array of issues. He attended early Wilson cabinet meetings but his suggestions were mostly ignored, so Marshall stopped going. After Wilson’s stroke late in his presidency, it was his wife Edith and not Marshall who ran the government. In 1913, President Wilson began personally meeting with U.S. senators, usurping a traditional role of vice presidents who acted as a conduit. Marshall would write in his memoir, “I have sometimes thought that great men are the bane of civilization, they are the real cause of all the bitterness and contention which amounts to anything in the world.”
The Marshall relationship with Wilson was described as “functioning animosity.”
But the Hoosier gave us an enduring quote. During a Senate debate on the needs of the nation, Marshall quipped to Sen. Joseph Bristow, “What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar.”
Today, Gov. Pence is 70 days away from following Marshall’s footsteps into the Old Executive Office Building. He is measuring for curtains in the Naval Observatory with a dinner there with Vice President Joe Biden scheduled. At some point near the end of his term in 2021 or, perhaps, 2025, Pence will sign the Roosevelt desk.
It is an incredible political revival. There were so many errors and shoddy staff work during the first three years of the Pence administration that Howey Politics Indiana described it about a year ago as the “exploding cigar governorship.”
Pence responded by giving me a box of Punch cigars (one of my favorites, by the way), in an era when he was still doing interviews with Indiana media. The man had a sense of humor he used to beguile those taking exception to policy and practice.
Many believed Pence was on the path to political extinction in 2016. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act debacle essentially ended a conceived presidential campaign that would have thrust him in the company of Trump. He might have become “RFRA Mike” in Trump insult parlance. He faced a tough rematch with Democrat John Gregg, who was probing the Pence record, particularly on divisive social issues, with sharpened knives. Polls showed Pence vulnerable and polarizing. There was Donald Trump rising as a demagogue, with many in the media fixated on a death wish march into Electoral College oblivion.
When dozens of prominent Republicans turned their backs on Trump, Pence did what Quayle did in the summer of 1988. He conceived, then orchestrated a lifeline strategy to get on the ticket. This reached a dramatic crescendo in early July when Pence hosted Trump at a Columbia Club fundraiser, auditioned for him at a Westfield sports complex and dined with him that night. Mysteriously, Trump’s gilded jet had “mechanical” issues at the Indianapolis Airport, so Trump spent the night at the Conrad, then had breakfast with the Pences as the Governor’s Residence.
We now know via the reporting of the New York Post and New York Times that the jet malfunction was a diabolical strategy in the cunning brain of then- campaign manager Paul Manafort to keep Trump in the company of the Hoosier governor. The Trump children and son-in-law Jared Kushner were pushing Pence for the ticket. Trump wanted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. We know now that it was Kushner to sent the charter flight to pick up the Pences on that Thursday. We watched him disembark at Teterboro, and then came the news reports that an agitated Trump was fuming about the Trump/Pence ticket. He was angered by the leaks be believed came from the Pence staff in Indiana.
Mike and Karen Pence had to be twisting, twisting, twisting in the Trumpian winds for a night, until that Friday when the ticket was finally forged and the two appeared on a Manhattan stage the following day, though Trump didn’t stick around on stage to listen to Pence’s maiden veep comments.
I compared our First Couple as Hansel and Gretel, walking into the witch’s lair. Trump is shifty and wolf like. His biographers describe him as occasionally playing loyalists off on each other, then devouring them. It might have careened into that zone when Trump dissed Pence during the second debate for freelancing on a potential U.S. military strategy in Syria.
What has evolved is a strange, strange synergy. Pence and Trump apparently have established a working relationship in a campaign culture that was effectively dysfunctional and dysfunctionally effective. He became the apologizer, the loyalist, that sunny beam of optimism we in Indiana know so well.
Tim Alberta writes in The National Review that while Pence was one a true believer in social policy, he is now a Trump true believer, willing to morph long-held views into the Boss’s world view. “I believe it. I believe it. I really believe it,” he tells Alberta. “The American people know we can be stronger. They know we can be more prosperous. They know we can stand by our most cherished constitutional principles. But they know we’ve got to have new leadership. So I really believe — I really believe — that we’re on our way to a victory.”
Many chuckled by this assertion. They are not today.
Alberta observes: What’s notable isn’t that a politician would profess confidence. It’s that Pence, who describes himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” attributes his confidence not to the providence of God, or to the power or principle, or to the fitness of his party, but to the transcendent appeal of his running mate, who he says “has tapped into the frustrations and aspirations of the American people like no one in my lifetime.” This is not a façade. People close to Pence say that despite his initial distaste for Trump’s style, he was awestruck by the candidate’s galvanizing effect on voters in Indiana (he won the primary with 53%). And the more they talked, the more Pence subscribed to Trump’s political analysis: Once an avowed free-trader, and supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he admits that Trump transformed his thinking by arguing that multi-national trade agreements are impractical and ripe for exploitation.
And, Alberta notes, Pence also began to see a different side of Trump’s personality. Behind closed doors, he discovered the brash billionaire to be hospitable, inquisitive, even “modest.” He visited Trump’s businesses and observed his breezy interactions with blue-collar employees. He watched Trump patrol the aisles of his personal jet, asking if the meals were sufficient. He listened to Trump’s questions about Evangelicalism, which began at their first breakfast and have not ceased. As they grew closer personally, Pence became certain that outsiders, and he himself, had gotten it wrong. This allowed his faith in Trump to blossom.
Pence could have defeated John Gregg, but it was no sure thing. If he hadn’t made it on to the Trump ticket, if it were the Trump/Christie ticket instead, all three might have gone down to defeat. The conviction of two top Christie aides in the “Bridgegate” scandal would have rendered the homestretch Obamacare premium increases and the Comey letter intrigue over the Weiner emails to the media back burner.
Instead, it’s Vice President-Elect Pence. He will some day find himself bending over a drawer in the Old Executive Office Building with a Sharpie, affixing his name near Nixon’s and Quayle’s.
There is talk that Trump will operate as an uber executive setting broad policy strokes, and it will be Pence who will do the down-and-dirty work of getting them implemented in a Congress seething with Trump doubters and detractors. Pence, some believe, will become a very powerful vice president. Others believe that Trump will ultimately consume him and that functional animosity is a real potential.
We shall see.
Regardless, Pence is nearing the apex of his power, into the upper reaches of his profound ambition, riding the Trump jet, perhaps into the Oval Office some day.
Have a cigar, governor.