Parting With Pence

I first met Mike Pence when we were both Republican candidates for Congress. We both lost, and he transitioned to hosting a televised talk show on which his “good friend” (!) Sheila periodically appeared– I was then director of Indiana’s ACLU. (Our discussions usually made me question the “attended law school” entry on his biography…)

Later, when Pence was Governor, former students of mine who were working for state government shared stories of prayer meetings in the Governor’s office–along with their impression that the Governor was basically uninterested in–and incompetent at–governing.

In 2016, as Pence began running for re-election, I had one of those ubiquitous “Pence Must Go” yard signs; I still believe that–had Trump not tapped him to appeal to Evangelical voters, “Pious Pence” would have gone down in well-deserved flames. 

Credit where credit is due: his 2020 decision to uphold the Constitution (despite his very tenuous grasp of its provisions) was laudable and courageous. To the extent Pence has a place in history, that one virtuous decision secured it.

But let’s get real: Mike Pence was never going to be President. 

The best reaction I have read to his withdrawal from the race was written by Mike Leppert.

It was a long shot bid from the start, so, its early end was no surprise. “It’s become clear to me: This is not my time,” was the apt comment he delivered at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual conference. I cannot recall agreeing with him more strenuously, but for more reasons than I expect he intended.

Pence’s time ended shortly after the 2016 election, as did the era of his entire brand of conservativism. The GOP shift toward the populist, inarticulate, grievance-based platform of today cannot credibly tout the Holy Bible as its guide. It never really could, but the party’s hate-based rhetoric of today has made the hard-to-take-seriously piousness of the party’s past an unfunny joke. Pence never wavered from his version of Christianity, though.

Message discipline could be his greatest asset. No matter how bad the message might have been, he was always entirely committed to it. So much so, the repetitiveness of it eventually would damage his authenticity on the stump. However, this skill was a difference maker for the ticket in 2016. He was the only guy who could stick to the script in that chaotic campaign, and I firmly believe that without this contribution, Hillary Clinton wins. 

As Leppert points out, other than an ability to repeat talking points, Pence’s speechifying leaves much to be desired.

Admittedly, I already know that I am about to disagree with him before he makes a sound. But that’s part of the task at hand in political speech: to move people. 

Try to recall a time he did that. Ever. There’s not a moment when he moved a crowd from hostile to simply opposed; from opposed to interested in listening more; or, from neutral to agreeable. On his own side of the aisle, he only succeeded at choosing a narrative he already knew his audience would applaud. As a political writer and communication consultant present in Indiana for almost his entire career, I can attest that I’ve never heard anyone say, “You really should have heard that Pence speech last night!” 

It wasn’t only delivery–his policy positions set him far apart from the general public. 

I’ve written about it before, but governmental control of anyone’s body is not conservatism. It’s pushing totalitarianism. Conservatives adopted the pro-life mantra without reconciling its fundamental contradictions with their platform. And Pence was one of that duality’s leaders. Again, a knock on his authenticity that his supporters are unable to see. 

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act and his monumental mishandling of it, is the event that defines him for many Hoosiers. It was a law that discriminated, by design, against the LGBTQ community. Pence knew that as well as anyone, but he knew he couldn’t get away with just saying that. So, he didn’t. And it cost him twenty points in his approval rating at the time, points he never got back. 

Leppert reminds us that during his congressional career, Pence failed to pass a single bill–that he has no policy victories to tout. For that matter, Leppert says Pence has a tendency to cause more problems than he solves. 

His political brand is highlighted by a career’s worth of troubles, some of his own making, others through his willful acquiescence. His sins are now ironically unforgivable, by a crowd that has never been more in need of forgiveness. 

As Leppert says, pretensions aside, today’s GOP is no longer remotely conservative.

Ironically, the party’s base hates Pence for the single act of his career that actually was conservative.


  1. To all the comments lauding Pence for upholding the Constitution at that critical moment, you might just as well praise someone for not robbing a bank. It is nothing more than simply doing the right thing, which is what we are all supposed to do. It is a low bar, and a sad statement, that our elected officials are so corrupt that it is praiseworthy when they do nothing more than what they are supposed to do.

  2. It was hard for me to imagine Pence thought he actually had a chance. The right hated him for the one time he actually did his job, the left disliked him because of all the times he chose not to or because he was a religious nut. His embrace of trump fooled only the far right who worship a different Messiah and message than found in the New Testament.

  3. The Pence experience is so bad as to defy description. OF COURSE he’s incompetent. Does anyone think Trump would have actually picked someone who knew what they were doing? That competent running mate would have shown up Trump on a daily basis.

    Pence’s unforgivable sin was accepting his role as Toady-in-Chief so eagerly and embarrassing the executive branch as much as the orange hairball did. Then, the Republican bench of competent and even, perhaps, likable candidates for ANY office is very, very short. Think Ted Cruz.

    I wish Pence a nice peaceful retirement with Mother and his Bible, never to be seen or heard from again.

  4. I was well trained in what I realize today was a Puritan church, the Dutch Reformed Church, into which my small town Grandfather married into a high-status Herkimer, NY family. The family, it turns out, was one of the reasons that brought my parents back to Herkimer when I was three years old, from Baltimore. My siblings and I went to Sunday School often and Church pretty frequently until we reached puberty.

    Enough about me. What about Mike Pence?

    I am a fan of Artificial Intelligence, and if we ever get to the point of AI as Vice President, I’ll bet Mike Pence will be born again. A handsome yet mature, powerfully speaking, politician hair kind of religion-oriented cardboard cutout who complimented but never upstaged or in any way diluted Donald Trump, the iconic billionaire took a half-a-billion dollar inheritance and levered it into the country’s first media star Presidency.

    Enough about Trump.

  5. Pence’s soul cringing responses to news interviews were nothing compared to his soul damaging silence at the Trump policy of taking children away from their parents at the boarder. This country may never recover from that.

  6. Dear Mike Pence – Target is hiring full or part time. If, hopefully, you’re assigned to the women’s lingerie department, I’ll be sure to have you help me size panties that will fit my male body.

  7. “…the Governor was basically uninterested in–and incompetent at–governing.”

    The above comment and the “Pious Pence” reputation plus his successes in enacting RFRA anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ Indiana state laws are probably why Republicans thought he would be the perfect running mate for Trump. Weak and easily led due to his pious gullibility up until January 6, 2021 when Trump’s MAGA insurrectionists threatened to hang him; he was probably more afraid of being charged with treason had he not upheld the Constitution of the United States of America. It was a self-serving act before leaving the presidential stage more than loyalty to America and Americans.

    “Ironically, the party’s base hates Pence for the single act of his career that actually was conservative.” It may be conservative but at the foundation it was self preservation that won out.

    I saved my “Pence Must Go” yard sign; posted it in 2016, 2020 and 2023; removed it 2 days after he “went”. It is waiting in my garage in case he decides to make any political attempt in the future.

  8. Pence’s “success” in Congress was because his colleagues knew he’d do as he was told, he wasn’t there to think. When he became governor, I was appalled because he was the poster boy for ineptitude, and I didn’t know who was behind the scenes pulling the strings. He was selected as TFG’s running mate was because, again, he wouldn’t waste time in thought and he’d do as he was told—except for that fateful day in January 2021. With his track record and the fact that, aside from Mother and his daughter, nobody likes him—at all—I’m not sure what he’ll do to fill his days, because I sure don’t envision him on the lecture circuit or as a cable television news commentator. Play stupid games…

  9. Interesting “trend”…never passed any legislation: Pence, Gym Jordan, Johnson…must be the new qualification for MAGA?

  10. Who else but a piece of white bread like Pence would the former President have chosen as a running mate? Pence was perfect…never said anything, never did anything and never thought anything. Just show up & smile….

  11. What James Todd wrote today and what I have written before. I am not going to congratulate anyone for doing what they are already under a constitutional duty to do. I have also after receiving pleas to support the Cheney lady from Wyoming for a medal, the vice presidency etc. written > She didn’t do anything she as a citizen was not already under a duty to do, and has over the years done untold damage to America as a Republican to the right of Atilla the Hun with her opposition to constructive legislation and cheerleading of tax cuts for the rich and corporate class, cuts that drive up the deficit, which she then blamed Democrats for their “socialist” giveaways.

    I am not going to forgive Hitler for his abominable crimes because he once helped an old lady across a street in Munich or for bank robbers because they stop at stop lights or for Trump when he tried to pull a coup and destroy our democracy – and may still succeed – thank you very much! Such negative acts sans consequence invite more and worse such acts, and ultimately, total chaos which, in turn, invites a political strongman to the fore to “establish order” and, as usual, inevitable fascist control under the guise of “freedom” (see De Fascist in Florida).

    Bloodless coups due to polity indifference or negligence which destroy the rule of law and invite authoritarian rule are still coups, and with a majority of election deniers among Republicans in the House it is clear that some form of coup is in our near future unless we very strongly win the ’24 election to blunt the deniers’ usual claim that it was stolen. Vote!

  12. I would agree with most of the comments and all that you said. I would NOT equate Speaker Johnson with Pence at all. He is intelligent, knows when to keep his mouth shut, and perhaps the most likely (though that may be impossible in part) of the Republicans in the House. He is similar to Pence in being Authoritarian – Christian (Dominant) – however – he is a Scary One – the “real thing” – in terms of NOT believing in anything faintly close to “Democracy” – much more of: “Daddy Knows Best” – on Steroids- like some of the Noted Authoritarian leaders of multiple countries who manipulate and ally with 45. The Impending Likely Government Shutdown and/or his avoiding it – will show his Colors. Pence’s were clear – obviously before 2016.

  13. Mike’s quoted comments are spot on.

    As Heather Cox Richardson has stated over and over again, the leaders of what is the MAGA right are far from conservative, but ironically they are radicals. They do not defend the equality of everyone before the law or promote the right of everyone to consent to the government under which they live.

    As she notes in her new book, Democracy Awakening, Abraham Lincoln faced the same authoritarianism in the form of a reactionary and wealthy minority who tried to get rid of the idea that a nation can be based not in land or religion or hierarchies, but rather in the concept of human equality along with its corollary that we have a right to consent to our government which in turn should act in our interest.

    We face the same aspiring autocrats today who exploit with their rhetoric and incite fears in their followers. These radicals’ version of America must be soundly rejected through the strength of an awakened majority both inside and outside the voting booth.

  14. Pence ran off for reasons as money and support. (and a chance in hell to win)the full field of now canidates are the same bland recycled wannabe president,(circa 2000s) thats only given trump more free air time. looking at gavel til you hurt,johnsons background of cloud based heaven, i see pence moving into his sphere ,or,thinktanks of god,guts and guns. religion has now become a battleground of its own individual cast survival. Im sure many in the circle of
    religious refirmation are scared and see maybe they have pushed the donation envelope too far.
    I would like to see the IRS open some church books and take a long forgotten look at how those wheels turn and where the money goes, seems the religious authoritarians insist the IRS be defunded. like any billonaire,thier arrogance has demanded (bought and paid for republicans)) that they pay no taxes. i can not see how you become rich preaching for any reason. if that money was intended for good. theres no excuse to see swaggart and the lot flying around leonard leo its ilk to con money for our demise.

  15. Jane Mayer’s reporting during the 2016 presidential transition with Pence directing the transition exposed he had some knowledge of the shady dealings going on during that time. Kushner meeting with Russian bankers at their embassy in D.C., Mike Flynn’s involvement with Russians and Roger Stones shady involvement with Ukraine, Pence allowed those without complaint. He was the Koch brother’s poster boy (funded) in line to become their Potus.
    Was being complicit in the cover up of tfg’s inner circle bad faith aims Pences sacrifice then to gain power for himself justifiable on any level? Anyway, it did the opposite.
    Mackinaw Island is a beautiful old resort in Michigan that prides itself with keeping with old ways like only horse and carriages and bicycles allowed for transport. When Pence was Veep he attended a right-wing conference at the Grand Hotel there and brought his multi vehicle motorcade for the event. It was a display of the man’s disregard for prized historic tradition over his flaunting of his self-image of importance.
    Pence’s smugness and putting up with tfg’s abuse wasn’t a good look, and he’s definitely not presidential material just like his former boss!

  16. James and Gerald, I agree with the Pence comments, but it’s worse than that. Pence _tried_ to find support for agreeing to do Trump’s bidding. If anyone deserves any lauding at all, it’s Dan Quayle. According to reports, when Pence reached out to him to get his thoughts an acquiescing to Trump, Quayle was adamant that the VP did not have that power. And my respect goes out to any other people that Pence approached at that time, and who supported the law of your country instead of a coup. The fact that Pence looked for support just shows how much of a pathetic lapdog he really was for Trump. He’ll get no congratulations from me.

  17. Manafort, with backing from Koch, delivered Pence to the ticket. Pence has been bankrolled by Koch syndicate money for decades. He now lives in a $1.9M compound in Carmel. Does anyone think he has not sold his soul for wealth and fame?
    He always reminds me of a caricature of a funeral director of old. He rationalizes his ambition and greed by clinging to his “faith”.

    We have a christo-fascist 2nd in line for the highest executive office/military commander in the country. If that does not scare the stuff out of you, I don’t know what will.

    Pence was dangerous enough, Johnson is by far more dangerous.

  18. In 1988 and 1990, newly-minted Republican conservative Mike Pence ran for US Congress against my boss US Rep. Phil Sharp (D-IN) and lost both times to him in a Republican-leaning district. During his 1990 challenge, Pence used campaign contributions to pay his mortgage, his wife’s car payment and various and sundry other personal bills……without informing his supporters. Recognizing this as unethical behavior, the FEC subsequently passed new federal campaign regulations forbidding the use of campaign contributions for such payments.

    This guileful behavior said everything about this unethical, so-called Christian. Second District voters and I witnessed firsthand his stunning lack of character………and time has not caused me change my mind at all.

  19. I listened to pence for years making pleas for citizens to balance budgets and vote more conservatively in all areas of spending. No one listened and here we are sitting at $ 33 trillion in debt.
    Johnson is trying to do the same, change Washington, but the vitriol and hatred is unreal. Hes not your regular politician getting rich on the backs of working people.

    Pence was a fantastic VP according to more balanced journalism

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