WASHINGTON  – Vice President-elect Mike Pence was an afterthought to President-elect Donald Trump during his acceptance speech early Wednesday morning.
After showering supporters, campaign staff and family members with lengthy encomiums, Trump turned to walk away from the podium. Then he returned abruptly, looked to Pence and said, “Thank you, Mike Pence.”
The slight was probably unintentional, even though Pence’s presence on the stage could not be overlooked. Pence was the person who introduced Trump.
That awkward moment surely does not foreshadow the importance of Pence in a Trump administration. Pence provided ballast during a stormy campaign when Trump went off course, and will wind up doing the same when Trump has to work with Congress.
There may not be much of a honeymoon, despite the fact that Republicans control both houses of Congress. Trump laid into many Republican lawmakers with alacrity during the campaign, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.
Ryan and Trump had an icy relationship throughout the campaign, but we have yet to hear a bad word about Pence from any Republican lawmaker.
Trump will need to depend on the good will toward Pence in Washington when he inevitably hits rough patches trying to sell a policy agenda to Congress. Pence, who served in Congress for 12 years and is a former chair of the House Republican conference, is the one with the relationships that will help Trump actually govern.
“You can see Pence having a significant role in interacting with the Hill given he was a long-term and respected member of the House,” said Marc Gerson, a former Republican tax counsel on the House Ways and Means Committee.
If you read a column I wrote earlier in the week, you may at this point be calling me a flip-flopper. Yes, I asserted that Pence was indifferent toward governing and that’s why he ran for vice president rather than keep his job as Indiana’s chief executive and running a state.
I also made reference to Pence being the most able sailor on the bridge of the Titanic. Like most of the rest of the denizens of the world of political punditry, I was wrong about the election. Mea culpa. Pence knew better than I what was moving the electorate.
Now the governor who stumbled at times working with an overwhelmingly Republican legislature will have a chance to deal with narrow GOP majorities in the House and Senate. Pence’s affable demeanor will help him in that effort. The greater Pence’s presence in a Trump administration, the better he will serve not just Trump but the country.
Trump may have been an effective presidential candidate by tapping a rich vein of anger and frustration among people who feel ignored by the government. But as of today, he still lacks the skill set and temperament to be president.
We have to hope that Mr. Trump grows into the role. He can make strides by delegating to and observing his vice presidential partner.
Trump’s acceptance speech touched the right chords. It featured moments of generosity and grace, elements that are too often lacking in a Trump address but that Pence can demonstrate effortlessly.
Many people passionately disagree with Pence’s social conservative positions. But it’s rare to find someone who doesn’t like him as a person.
Trump is the exact opposite. Many people have embraced his political rhetoric but criticize his personality. That could hurt Trump in Washington, a town that runs on bonhomie, even when it’s fake.
Pence can be Trump’s Washington Sherpa and chief diplomat to Capitol Hill, humanizing him for lawmakers. If Pence succeeds at this task - perhaps his most important – he’ll get more than a passing reference from Trump when they share a podium in the future.

Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.