Boredom as Camouflage: Mike Pence on Deadline (with Tom LoBianco)
The former VP can act decisively, even heroically—but only when he must.
Mike Pence is a glacier. It takes eons for him to move, but once he does—boom.
“He’s a guy who gets pushed to do things,” says the journalist Tom LoBianco, the author of Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House and today’s guest on the PREVAIL podcast. “It takes him forever to make decisions.”
The former Vice President is conservative—not just politically, but temperamentally as well. He’s cautious, calculating. He holds his cards so close to the vest that they’re practically in his breast pocket beneath the handkerchief. He presents as dull, but that’s just an act, LoBianco says. Pence uses his boring persona as “camouflage.” Somewhere beneath that stolid exterior is a real person, with real thoughts, dreams, and ambitions. And once in a blue moon, the real Mike Pence reveals himself.
When push comes to shove—and when shove comes to an angry mob of besiegers actively trying to hang him—Pence is more than capable of acting decisively, even heroically. But he won’t do so without hard deadlines.
For example, as LoBianco explains on the show: under Indiana state law, a candidate cannot run for governor and national office at the same time. If Mike Pence was going to be Donald Trump’s running mate on the 2016 Republican ticket, the then-governor of Indiana had to formally withdraw his name from the governor’s race by noon on July 15, 2016.
The night of Tuesday, July 12, 2016—three days before the deadline—Donald Trump spent an unscheduled night in Indianapolis. The next day, he met at the Governor’s Mansion with Mike and Karen Pence. Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka flew in to attend, along with Jared Kushner. This was Pence’s first encounter with the Trump spawn.
On Wednesday, after a private meeting between the two men, Trump offered Pence the VP gig. But he didn’t announce it publicly, because Trump is wishy-washy and indecisive and was too much of a wuss to say no to Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich, who were also being considered for the job.
The July 15 deadline loomed without an announcement, and Pence was not going to take the mendacious Trump’s word for it. On Friday morning, his political operatives let the Trump campaign know that without an announcement before lunchtime, Pence was out. And so at around 11am—just in the nick of time—Trump tweeted that Mike Pence was the guy.
Then there was January 6, 2021. In his capacity as President of the Senate, Pence was presiding over the certification of the electoral votes, a formality that nonetheless had to happen that day. He was under enormous pressure from President Trump and the more seditious members of the GOP to delay that vote. And maybe he would have, if the besiegers had not stormed the Capitol with intent to kill.
For four years, Pence had done whatever Trump asked of him, no matter how lowly, no matter how humiliating, no matter how politically suicidal. He was a man of the party, Trump was the leader of the party, and the VP loyally toed the party line. One observer suggested that the VP was Trump’s “property.” But on January 6, he refused a direct order. Pence stood with the American people and against the besiegers hellbent on destroying democracy. He sounded righteously angry when he finished certifying the vote late that night. However sycophantic he’d been previously, that day, he was resolute. For a brief, shining moment—far and away the finest of his term in office—the real Mike Pence showed his face.
As LoBianco put it, “January 6th turned out to be arguably the most historically significant deadline in Mike Pence’s entire life.”
Would Chris Christie or Newt Gingrich have certified the vote, or would they have gone along with the Trump coup? No matter. Mike Pence was the VP, and he aced the test. Our democracy held because of it.
Greg Olear talks to the journalist Tom LoBianco, author of “Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House,” about the inscrutable Indiana politician who uses boredom as camouflage. Plus: an appeal to charity.
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Photo credit: Gage Skidmore. Governor Mike Pence of Indiana speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.