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Mike Pence Is Donald Trump’s Political Opposite

6 minute read

Conservative activists were digging into plates of pasta in downtown Cleveland when a surprise guest appeared to offer testimony. “It’s time for us to come together,” Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence told the group, which had held a discussion of whether conservatives could support Donald Trump. “I have a sense of this man. I have a sense of his heart.”

It was pure political cliché: banal, reassuring, predictable. Which may be just what Trump needs in a running mate. Until recently, the Indiana governor didn’t know Trump from Adam. They make an unlikely, even unimaginable match: the entertainer and the ideologue; one pompous, one pious; the billionaire Manhattanite and the mild Midwesterner. But in a bitterly divided party, an arranged marriage of political opposites offers benefits for both.

Trump gets a movement conservative who can soothe his skeptical brethren. Pence, 57, is a congressional veteran with deep ties to the religious right and a fiscal record that made him a favorite of the Koch brothers. “His voice comes as close to Ronald Reagan’s as anyone’s,” says Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas.

Pence, who was locked in a tighter than expected re-election contest, gets a political lifeline. And a spot on the ticket is just the latest twist in his improbable ascent. The son of a gas-station owner from southern Indiana, Pence lost his maiden House campaign in 1988. A rematch two years later was derailed by revelations that he had legally repurposed campaign funds to pay his mortgage and other personal expenses. Pence found political salvation on talk radio–he liked to describe himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf”–and finally won a House seat a decade later. By the time Pence went home to serve as governor after the 2012 election, a bid for national office didn’t seem far off.

It’s easy to see why Pence looked perfect to Trump’s advisers. The challenge was convincing the candidate that the buttoned-up pro was a better pick than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich–a self-described “pirate”–or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who shares Trump’s taste for rhetorical combat. The night before announcing Pence as his choice on July 15, Trump worked the phones, questioning allies about the union, even as Pence prepared for their debut in a Manhattan hotel. But in a rare case of outside guidance prevailing over Trump’s gut instinct, the CEO stuck with the Hoosier from the church pew.

The pick cheered conservatives Trump has struggled to win over. At a fractious Cleveland convention, Pence was nominated on July 19 without a murmur of dissent. “Mike is a great choice,” gushed Bob Vander Plaats, an evangelical kingmaker and Iowa delegate. The campaign plans to send Pence to the Rust Belt and rural Midwest, hoping to pick off votes this fall in Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio.

But in other ways, Pence fits the Trump campaign like a bad suit. Running mates usually play the role of attack dog, but Pence swore off mudslinging a generation ago. “Negative campaigning is wrong,” he wrote in a 1991 essay. And while Trump’s aides won’t ask him to wield the blade, they do need him to make the case against Hillary Clinton. “You don’t want to write a sequel called Regrets of a Positive Campaigner,” says Kellyanne Conway, a Pence ally and Trump adviser.

Democrats claimed to be just as ecstatic about the pick as Republicans. Pence is the most conservative member of a national ticket in years. His views on abortion, gay rights and other social issues may dampen his appeal with swing voters and help the Democrats raise money. He is a safe bet to promote Republican unity now. But he could turn off independents in November.


Two spouses, same words

Melania Trump’s opening-night convention speech earned high praise in the hall. But key passages were lifted word for word from a 2008 speech by First Lady Michelle Obama, an act of plagiarism by one of her speechwriters that exposed the Trump campaign’s lack of internal checks.


‘Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect.’


‘From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect.’

How the ‘Never Trump’ rebellion flamed out

Foes of Donald Trump plotted for months to free delegates at the Republican National Convention to vote their conscience. The outcome was uncertain until the final moments.

[This article consists of 4 illustrations. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]




Arkansas Representative Steve Womack, the presiding chair, called a voice vote on rules that would honor the primary results. After outbursts of screams for both yeas and nays, he ruled that the yeas prevailed.


The rebels sought to hold a roll-call vote to overrule the chair. Under Rule 39, they could force a new vote with signatures from a majority of seven delegations. They claimed to have signatures from 10 states and D.C.


Republican leaders and the Trump campaign staff fanned out on the convention floor, got ahold of the petitions and pressured enough delegates in four of those delegations to take their names off the petitions, thus denying the petitioners majorities.



After vacating the stage to jeers, Womack returned to announce that three states no longer had the signatures needed to force a roll call (one had never had enough to begin with). Boos filled the hall. But the brief rebellion had been put down.

Fireworks from the floor in Cleveland


“We Republicans have made our choice. Have we had our arguments this year? Sure we have. You know what I call those? Signs of life.”


“One of the things that I have learned about Hillary Clinton is that one of her heroes, her mentors, was Saul Alinsky … He wrote a book called Rules for Radicals. On the dedication page, it acknowledges Lucifer.”


“What happened to ‘There is no black America, there is no white America, there is just America’? What happened to it?”


“So of course, let’s make America great again. But let’s make America America again.”


“Let’s face the facts: Hillary Clinton cared more about protecting her own secrets than she did about protecting America’s secrets.”


“I don’t believe the guy is a Christian … Obama, I mean, that’s not a Christian.”

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Write to Alex Altman / Cleveland at alex_altman@timemagazine.com