Mike Pence book says Trump’s win posed problems for VP and wife Karen
WASHINGTON – Donald Trump’s unexpected 2016 victory was a bit awkward for his running mate’s political future and for his homelife, according to a new book about the vice president.
Instead of getting to run himself for the GOP nomination in 2020, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence would have to spend the next four years cleaning up after Trump, journalist Tom LoBianco writes in his book “Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House” that publishes this month.
And then there was his angry wife.
Karen Pence had twice rebuffed her husband’s celebratory kiss on election night before exploding, during a briefing the next day with Secret Service agents, over concerns about how the financially-strapped couple would pay for their new life.
“What are we going to do Mike?? We don’t have any money! Who’s going to pay for my inaugural gown??” LoBianco quotes Karen Pence as saying.
Pence’s office declined to comment about the book.
Trump ended up arranging for the inaugural committee to cover some updates to the vice presidential residence and to buy Karen Pence two ball gowns – an original and the cost of altering that dress into one she liked better, according to the book.
The Pences may not have needed the financial help if the couple, years before, hadn’t lost nearly $1 million Pence had inherited from his father. He invested in a pair of privately held companies which failed, according to LoBianco. Pence, whom the author describes as being in awe of those who make money, later lost close to $700,000 more in stock he’d held in the family’s gas station and convenience store business, which went bankrupt in 2001.
Those are some of the many details that LoBianco includes in the latest book that tries to answer the question of who is Mike Pence – and why the devout Christian has entwined himself with Trump.
LoBianco describes Pence as indecisive, but great at executing others’ decisions. A “pleaser,” Pence is kept on track by his “bulldog” wife and is easily manipulated by staff, according to the book.
Pence shines on the fundraising circuit and is skilled at bringing together disparate personalities with his genial attitude and self-effacing humor, he writes. But LoBianco describes Pence as governing like an “amateur” in Indiana. And he says that the inability of Pence, a former six-term congressman, to deliver the votes to repeal Obamacare drove a wedge between him and Trump.
LoBianco writes that the common thread in the disparate descriptions others have given of the vice president — a Svengali pulling Trump’s strings, or a glorified coatrack — is Pence’s “hidden nature.”
Still, he concludes that Pence is in the White House, serving someone like Trump, because “in the end, ambition and the hunger for power outweighed anything else.”
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LoBianco, a former reporter for the Associated Press and The Indianapolis Star, covered Pence during his challenging years as Indiana governor.
The book includes many behind-the-scenes details of the controversial “religious freedom” law Pence supported, which critics said would sanction discrimination against the LGBT community for religious reasons.
Most notably, he credits Paul Singer, the hedge-fund billionaire who Pence had been courting for a potential presidential bid, with convincing him to agree to change the law. Singer, whose son is gay, is an ardent supporter of LGBT rights inside the GOP.
Even after Pence reluctantly signed the revised law, most of Indiana’s most important GOP donors were not ready to back Pence’s re-election bid, according to the book.
While his aides arranged a meeting between Pence and a transgendered state worker to help the governor better understand the gay community, Pence couldn’t understand how the country could view him as a monster, LoBianco writes. In fact, when Pence’s son asked if it would be OK for his fiancee’s gay best friend to be the Man of Honor at their 2016 wedding, Pence and his wife readily agreed.
But that “love the sinner, hate the sin,” approach has continued to provoke controversy for Pence, who did not run for re-election as governor after Trump made him his running mate.
Before Indiana’s decisive presidential primary in May 2016, former President George W. Bush had asked Pence, through intermediaries, to save the Republican Party by stopping Trump from getting the nomination, according to the book.
Describing Pence’s lukewarm endorsement of Ted Cruz that also included praise for Trump, LoBianco quotes an unnamed Cruz aide saying that Pence doesn’t make his own decisions but is manipulated by staff. An anonymous Trump adviser said Pence lacks confidence.
But Pence is portrayed as standing up to Trump when the presumptive GOP nominee wants to know why he should pick Pence over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
If Trump wants a “killer,” Pence said, he’s not that guy.
“I’m going to enjoy myself,” LoBianco quotes Pence saying. “I’m going to be respectful. I’m going to do things with my own style because that’s how I’m comfortable.”
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Pence’s comfort level was severely tested by the release, during the campaign, of the Access Hollywood recording in which Trump had bragged about grabbing women’s genitals.
A few select donors delivered back-channel messages to Pence that the party had a contingency plan to replace Trump on the ticket with Pence, according to the book. But helping to remove Trump would be political suicide. And even as friends texted him to leave the ticket to save himself, Pence knew that Trump was the future of the GOP, LoBianco writes.
He describes Karen Pence as initially livid after the release of the recording. But then she tells top aide Marty Obst that the couple had always known there would be times that Trump said and did things that they would never do. That doesn’t change the mission, she added.
Still, after Trump’s unexpected victory, Karen Pence rejected her husband’s embrace, a detail LoBianco attributes to former Trump campaign aides, the same source for her comments about their financial straits.
Near the end of the book, the author quotes an exchange between the vice president and an evangelical pastor, which suggests Pence might have his own struggles with his political marriage to Trump.
Robert Schenck, who had prayed with Pence in his congressional office years before, watched his old friend administer the oath of office in 2018 to Sam Brownback, Trump’s new ambassador for religious freedom.
Schenck told LoBianco that, after the ceremony, he confronted Pence.
“You know, Mr. Vice President, more than anything, we need you to find your conscience, the country desperately needs you to find your conscience,” Schenck said he told Pence.
The vice president, no longer smiling, replied: “It’s always easier said than done.”
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