You can decide whether that headline is a Dad joke or not – but it’s been dancing around my head as I thought about Brian Howey over the past few days. 

Brian and his then-fiancée, Susan, came through Ellicott City, Maryland a few months ago – just outside Baltimore. We met for breakfast at the Double T Diner, a Baltimore institution with giant portions and advertising on the placemats, just like you’d find up in the Region. 

Howey had fished out old copies of “The Pence Report” newsletter while he was cleaning his place – it was too late for me to get it into my Pence biography, “Piety & Power”, but I was elated to see them, nonetheless. 

One question I get a lot is: Was Mike Pence a social crusader back then? When he was on the radio? And based on my research, the answer seems to be not as much as people seem to think. 

He was more politically attuned, interested in the horse race (and if you’re reading this now, you probably are, too). He was more interested in campaigning and less-so policy particulars and ideological stances.

His “Pence Reports” from late 1994 and early 1995 prove it. (And mesh with the recollections of others, like former AP Indiana statehouse bureau chief Doug Richardson, who remembered a young-ish Mike Pence very interested in tactics and winning.) But he also flashed some of the social conservatism which would come to define his career in Congress almost a decade later.

For context, this comes a few years after he had lost back-to-back congressional races and swore off running for office (for then) and after his stint at the Indiana Policy Review (where he braced his intellectual conservative moorings.) 

“Many conservatives are quick to say, ‘Yeah, it was all about Clinton and we sure got him!’” Pence wrote on Nov. 11, 1994, in his recap of the Gingrich Revolution in in Volume 1, Issue 12 of “The Pence Report.” “But did Clinton create the modern welfare state? Did Clinton pass Roe v. Wade? Did Clinton create our confiscatory tax system? Did Clinton invent socialist regulatory policies in employment or environmental practices? Did Clinton invent the Great Society? No, no, no, no, no and no. The liberal establishment in Washington, D.C., in Congress and the media collaborated to create them all.” 

That might sound like some serious spitfire from a conservative warrior but taken in the context of the moment and the rest of his newsletters it’s more of an afterthought to his greater focus on campaigning and winning. 

Of the six-page newsletter, the Table of Contents includes these items: “Republican Blowout, National Numbers, Lugar Wins, How David McIntosh Won, How Hostettler Won, How Souder Won, How Myers Stomped, Al Hubbard’s Two Regrets, The Lugar Team Blows the Democrats Away” and more. It was an election issue, to be sure, and came on the heels of a historic victory for the Republicans (which would see them hold the U.S. House for 20 of the following 24 years).

In an interview with Howey, re-published in the May 1995 issue, Pence points out that his radio show (and by extension, himself) is “mainstream conservative … not interested in creating a forum for the conveyance of paranoid conspiracy theories.” 

That’s a pretty good barometer for his career at-large, as well: Wherever the right of the Republican Party was at any given moment, Pence stood as well. And his comments in those areas tended to go along with the talking points of the moment. 

He flashed his original, analytical thinking, in the horse-race pieces, which come across with more zest and flair. He opens his January 1995 issue with a detailed tick-tock of Dan Quayle’s stumbling effort to launch a presidential bid. 

One month later, after Quayle’s sudden exit from the presidential race, Pence ticked through the reasons Quayle should quickly announce a run for Indiana governor in a column titled “Pensive Thoughts.” “Dan Quayle must decide whether he will be a candidate by March 31st. Republicans have too many other outstanding candidates to allow a ‘Hamlet on the White River’ to delay their efforts,” Pence writes. (No small irony here that five years later, Pence would a run “Hamlet”-style primary campaign of apparent indecision to run out the clock with great success and win the 2000 Republican primary.) 

But he also used his “Pensive Thoughts” column to issue warnings to the Republican Establishment from its right flank.

“There is a cancer in the belly of the Republican Party, in Washington and Indianapolis. The cancer is the festering lie that the base of the Republican Party can be completely secured by down-sizing government, cutting taxes, reducing regulations and reforming the welfare state,” Pence wrote. “The Republican Party is in denial over the role that social conservatives clearly played in the blinding success which they enjoyed on November 8, 1994.”

So, which one is Pence – political handicapper or social crusader? Perhaps there’s room for both, although his flair lies with the campaigning tactics. 

Tom LoBianco is a contributor at Yahoo News and author of the “Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House,” a biography of Pence which the New York Times calls “crisp and engaging.” https://bitly.com/PietyAndPower