WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence thought his boss seemed discouraged.
President Donald Trump had been impeached the previous day for inciting the Jan. 6 rioters who’d stormed the U.S. Capitol.
Finding the president in the back room of the Oval Office, Pence congratulated him for a video he’d tweeted out after the House voted, belatedly condemning the violence.
The devoutly Christian vice president also reminded Trump that he was praying for him.
“Don’t bother,” Trump said, according to Pence’s new memoir.
Thanking Trump for the privilege of serving with him, Pence said they would “just have to disagree on two things” – Jan. 6 and that Pence will never stop praying for Trump.
“That’s right,” Trump responded with a smile. “Don’t ever change.”
Stay in the conversation on politics: Sign up for the OnPolitics newsletter
Political odd couple
Pence’s account of the events around Jan. 6 – when the uber loyal vice president stood up to Trump’s demand that he block congressional certification of Joe Biden’s victory – are the main draw of his memoir, “So Help Me God.” (The book, described as “the most robust defense of the Trump record of anyone who served in the administration, was released Tuesday as both men are considering running for president in 2024.)
Readers might also be looking for clues to understanding this political odd couple: the brash, rules-breaking, thrice-married New Yorker paired with the affable Hoosier who has long described himself as a “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican – in that order.”
Despite their stark differences, Pence’s public devotion to Trump seemed so over-the-top that critics ridiculed him for – as conservative commentator George F. Will once wrote – his “talent for toadyism and appetite for obsequiousness.”
Even Pence, when berated by Trump for not having the courage to do his bidding one last time, reminded the president, “other than your family, no one in this administration has been more loyal to you than me.”
The 2024 presidential race in 2022:What to know about Trump, DeSantis, Pence and Biden
Overturning Roe was reward for hardship
What price did Pence pay for that loyalty? What does he really think of Trump, especially now that their rift has grown into a chasm? What calculation had Pence made when deciding to partner with Trump and would he do it again?
An answer to at least that last question is found in the 542-page book’s epilogue.
“I have no regrets,” Pence wrote. The fact that three of the five Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade were appointed during the Trump-Pence administration “makes all the hardship we endured from 2016 forward more than worth it.”
If he blames Trump for any of that hardship, the criticism is few and far between.
Pence recounts similar reactions to Jan. 6 – when some of the rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence!”– and to the first big test of their partnership, the release during the 2016 campaign of the “Access Hollywood” recording of Trump bragging about grabbing women’s genitals.
In both instances he was angry, Pence writes, but “my faith instructs me to ‘forgive those who trespass against us.’”
A few disagreements
Pence does nod to a few other disagreements with Trump. Those include Trump’s attacking Gold Star family Khizr and Ghazala Khan for their criticism of Trump and the administration’s separation of migrant parents from their children at the southern border.
Trump’s musings that light or disinfectants could cure COVID-19 was an “unforced error,” Pence acknowledges.
He disapproves of how Trump treated some of the officials – including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis – who left the administration, either by their choice or Trump’s.
Pence continues to defend Trump
In general, however, his book is a continuation of the role Pence played in the administration, smoothing Trump’s edges and offering more palatable explanations for his behavior.
Trump’s takeover of the coronavirus briefings Pence led weren’t a distraction from vitally need communication during a pandemic. Rather, Trump’s combative exchanges with reporters were “in some way reassuring to the American people that life was going on.”
Talking about himself more than his running mate when introducing Pence during the 2016 campaign wasn’t a display of his ego. It was a shrewd move to ensure the cameras wouldn’t cut away until Trump had delivered a full campaign speech.
Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was “less-than-perfect,” but it wasn’t an impeachable offense.
The White House wasn’t the swirl of chaos that other officials close to Trump have described, with constant staff turnover and an erratic commander-in-chief with a short attention span. Pence, by contrast, praises Trump’s attention to detail. The atmosphere Trump fostered was “entrepreneurial and competitive,” he writes. Oval Office meetings, while admittedly freewheeling and unconventional, were likened to “jam sessions.”
Particularly on foreign policy, Pence argues his boss’ unpredictability was an advantage.
“Sometimes the most reasonable thing is to be unreasonable,” Pence writes.
Good cop/bad cop
He describes his role in their good cop/bad cop relationship with allies as “delivering the message with a smile and then closing the sale.”
But when it came to adversaries, particularly North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, it was Pence who more often took the tough line. In fact, Trump thought Pence went too far in his stony-faced encounter with Putin at an international conference.
“Sometimes it shows more confidence when you’re friendly,” Trump admonished.
That friendliness was on full display when Trump, standing by Putin’s side at a 2018 meeting in Helsinki, accepted Putin’s denials that Moscow interfered with the 2016 election.
While Pence said he had “strongly encouraged” Trump to clarify those remarks, he also defends Trump’s reluctance to publicly criticize Putin, writing it was part of a strategy of building stable relations.
In case you missed it:Former VP Mike Pence says he didn’t leave office with classified material
But when Pence got outsized attention in the business press for a get-tough-on-China speech he was about to deliver, Trump wondered why he wasn’t the one delivering it. Pence reminded him that they’d gone over every line together.
Where Pence wants credit
Pence knew not to grab the spotlight away from Trump, and he’s still careful not to detail much behind-the-scene maneuvering or to claim credit.
He does write that he reinforced Trump’s resolve to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem against the advice of “almost everyone.”
When Neil Gorsuch was growing frustrated with the confirmation process for his nomination to the Supreme Court, Pence “tried to say without saying it that the president had nominated him and the president could withdraw his nomination.”
When Trump’s second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, was accused of having sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford while they were in high school, Pence said he was among those who told Kavanaugh he needed to show “more fire, more righteous indignation” in fighting back.
Lobbyists loved Mike Pence:Here’s what they wanted
‘Crank lawyers’ sowed seeds for Jan. 6
In the final days of the administration, Pence blames Trump for following the advice of outside, “crank” lawyers, sowing the seeds for “a tragic day in January.”
But while Pence describes repeatedly trying to make Trump understand that he doesn’t have the legal authority to do what’s being demanded of him, he never says he told Trump the 2020 election was fairly decided. .
Pence writes he told Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, he wasn’t convinced voter fraud had cost them the election. But when Trump asks, on Jan. 5, how Pence can “certify a fraud,” he responded, “Mr. President, I don’t question there were irregularities and fraud. It’s just a question of who decides, and under the law that is Congress.”
Trump has continued to condemn Pence for not acting, telling a gathering of Christian conservatives in June that Pence “had a chance to be great” but “did not have the courage to act.”
Because of such comments, Pence writes in the epilogue, “I decided it would be best to go our separate ways.”
But, earlier in the book, Pence gives an explanation for those wondering “how such seemingly different men could work so well together and even become friends.”
What people don’t understand, he said, is his respect for the will of the American people in voting for Trump and his belief that Providence put Trump in the White House.
“My job, my calling, was to help him be successful in the presidency he had been elected to advance,” Pence wrote. “It was that simple.”