Until Vice President Mike Pence chose to stay at a Trump hotel 180 miles from where his meetings in Ireland were taking place, he fell somewhere in the middle of vice presidents: those who did so little to distinguish the office no one remembers them—Elbridge Gerry, Hannibal Hamlin, Dan Quayle—and those who did so much to disgrace the office—Calvin Coolidge, Spiro Agnew, Dick Cheney—that we can’t forget them.
Pence has moved from the first category to the second, not for dismissing claims that Trump paid off a porn star as baseless. It’s because rather than impose his Bible-thumping religion, with its commandment “Thou shalt not steal” on Trump, he has let Trump corrupt him. A glance at Trivago would reveal numerous hotels smack dab in the middle of where Pence’s meetings were taking place, and yet when Trump said, according to Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short, “Why don’t you stay at my place?” he said yes.
When I invite someone to stay at my place, even if they chip the wedding china and drink all the good wine during their visit, I don’t bill them. But what “staying at my place” means when it’s Trump doing the inviting is that the taxpayer will pay dearly—likely six figures for the whole entourage (a suite with ocean view, high-count thread sheets, in-floor heat, and bespoke decor goes for $1,000 per night), and that’s without the cost of the commute by helicopter, or the bar tab.
The defense that Mike Pompeo’s State Department purportedly approved every last dollar of the trip is just confirmation that everyone’s on the take.
By dipping into the U.S. Treasury, Pence has gone beyond lining Trump’s pockets with $250,000 of his donors’ money at Trump’s DC hotel and steakhouse. Trump didn’t select Pence to enrich himself—he has others for that. It was to vouch for him with the Christian Right. The thrice-married casino boss needed a rock-ribbed, church going, once-married TV Dad with the hair God gave him for ballast among evangelicals.
Pence’s signature achievement, in addition to his belief in praying away the gay, was driving Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act to passage. It wrote discrimination against LGBTQ citizens into law so there would be no question that a baker could refuse to put a groom and a groom atop a wedding cake.
His antipathy to gays is so pronounced that when he and Karen Pence, who teaches art at an anti-LGBTQ school, had lunch with the prime minister of Ireland and his partner, it made news when Pence’s press wrangler tweeted it as proof Pence wasn’t hostile to gays. It’s proof of nothing, since not to do it would have created an international incident. A meal doesn’t a tolerant person make.
Before lining Trump’s coffers, Pence proved his worth many times over, even if it came at the expense of being a hypocrite and laughingstock. His first test was covering for candidate Trump after the Access Hollywood tape came out containing words the man who won’t be alone with a woman not his wife (did you hear the one about the waiter removing Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup from his table until Mrs. Pence arrived?) had never heard.
While on matters sexual Pence is true blue, he doesn’t measure up on other concerns of the truly religious. He gives the hard-core evangelicals who believe in caring for the tired and hungry pause when he demurs over the propriety of “send her back” and separating children from their parents at the border. But he reassures them when he praises Trump’s appointment of judges and tax cuts, and reminds them how much better everything is without Hillary Clinton as president.
After Doonbeg, Pence may now join those vice presidents who started scandals, which is better than being grouped with Cheney, who started a war. Pence’s prior public service was good training for being v.p., which comes with indignity built in.
As a congressman he introduced 90 bills and resolutions without one becoming law. As governor, he squandered former Gov. Mitch Daniels’ great economy by forcing through the largest tax cuts and inevitable deficits in Indiana history. Had Trump not tapped him, he would likely have lost re-election.
Grateful for the rescue, he’s done everything Trump’s asked. Pence cast the tie-breaking vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as secretary of education so she could protect all those Trump University-like for-profit scams still standing. He speaks to everyone Trump desperately needs but can’t be bothered with: the March for Life rally, the Susan B. Anthony dinner, and the Summit on Persecuted Christians.
Trump’s trust in Pence to do nothing is so complete that he put him in charge of his election integrity panel. He appointed him chair of the National Space Council, evidence that deep down every president might wish his vice president, a daily reminder of his own mortality, would join the first manned mission to Mars.
Scouring every speech of Pence’s, there is only one memorable, out-of-character moment. Pence dispensed with his usual pat answer about his job when an American University student asked, “What’s it like to be the 48th vice president of the United States?” He said the job requires you “to keep your arms and legs in the ride at all times. Pull the roll bar down, because you just got to hang on.”
Do still waters run deep? One minute he’s working everyday “to advance the agenda of this president” et cetera, et cetera, and then another he’s boarding the Kingda Ka at Six Flags and holding on for dear life. He was only a ZIP code away from the Oval Office when he answered that AU student. There’s been nothing like it since, yet it makes you wonder if, in the middle of the night, he’s in on his own demise.
We’re too beaten down to conjure up the uproar that would ensue if Barack Obama had sent his veep to a resort he owned in Hawaii for an administration event. Or to gasp when Attorney General William Barr just happens to choose Trump’s Washington hotel for his Christmas party (for $30,000). Or stay horrified when Trump gives a three-minute infomercial at the G-7 to hold the next G-7 at his Doral resort. Already it’s yesterday’s news.
Fast forward to this week when, always the good soldier, Pence filled in for Trump in Poland at a World War II commemoration. Trump cancelled, blaming Hurricane Dorian, which he monitored, if at all, from his golf cart. He sent Alabamans scurrying for plywood and sandbags before the National Weather Service issued a correction that Dorian would not get that far inland. Always right, Trump insisted it would.
So far, Pence has not been asked to comment, but you can be sure he would agree that the Cotton State was in peril. And with Doonbeg, he’s shown he will do more than placate religious conservatives for Trump. He will also cut a corner to enrich him. With that, in the pantheon of vice presidents, he’s left the hapless league of Dan Quayle for the swamp of Spiro Agnew.