At a rally in North Carolina shortly after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence joined the Republican presidential ticket, an 11-year-old leveled with him. “I’ve been watching the news lately and I’ve been noticing lately that you’ve been kind of softening up on Mr. Trump’s policies and words,” Matthew Schricker said. “Is this going to be your role in the administration?”
Pence laughed it off, promising that he “couldn’t be prouder” to stand with Trump “shoulder-to-shoulder in this campaign, my friend.” The kid was right, though. Pence – whose selection was partly an olive branch to Congressional Republicans skittish about Trump’s candidacy – has been in the unenviable position of transmuting the often inflammatory things Trump says into sound bites more agreeable to mainstream voters.
Pence will face his most formidable challenge yet when he takes the stage in Farmville, Virginia, Tuesday evening to debate Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine. Among the items on his agenda: 1) reverse the damage Trump has done to their candidacy with his rambling, incoherent debate answers, 2) defend his comments about Alicia Machado, 3) rationalize the idea that he both lost nearly a billion dollars and may not have paid federal taxes for almost 20 years and 4) try to control the damage done by a damning AP report concerning his treatment of women on The Apprentice as well as 5) his dismissive comments about veterans with PTSD. And that’s just Trump’s baggage from the past week.
While some Trump surrogates are adept at gaslighting interviewers into thinking whatever the candidate said or did was totally reasonable (your Rudy Giulianis, Chris Christies and Kellyanne Conways), Pence takes a different tack: Over the past two-and-a-half months, he’s perfected the art of professing to be in lockstep agreement with his running mate while directly contradicting him.
Before they became running mates, Pence had a lot of disagreements with Trump – which is why he endorsed rival Ted Cruz in the Indiana primary. They didn’t see eye-to-eye on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for one. Trump called it “an attack on America’s business” and implored Congress not to pass it, while Pence urged the deal’s “swift adoption.” Then there was the Muslim ban, which Pence called “offensive and unconstitutional.” Pence didn’t like Trump’s treatment of Judge Gonzalo Curiel, either. “Of course I think those comments were inappropriate,” he said of Trump’s race-based attacks. “I don’t think it’s ever appropriate to question the partiality of the judge based on their ethnic background.” And there was the small matter of the Iraq War, which Pence argued in favor of on the House floor, and has passionately defended ever since, and which Trump now says was a mistake.
Not much has changed since the two teamed up. Pence still often stakes out the opposite position to Trump – but now, he’ll do so while insisting it’s the same position as Trump’s. Pence doesn’t see this as contradiction. Rather, he says, “I’ve seen my role as simply amplifying the points that Donald Trump is making.”
Here are six examples of the kind of rhetorical sleight-of-hand you might see on display at the vice presidential debate.
Shortly after Pence was added to the Republican ticket, Trump suggested he would pull out of NATO if other countries didn’t start paying more. Pence then denied Trump would do this.
Trump, July 21st: “If we cannot be properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost of our military protecting other countries, yes, I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, ‘Congratulations, you will be defending yourself,'” he told The New York Times.
“If we walk, we walk,” Trump later said, referring to the United States’ involvement in NATO.
Pence, July 21st: “We’ll uphold our treaty obligations, including the mutual defense agreement that is NATO,” Pence told NPR. If elected, Trump “would absolutely stand by our allies and treaty obligations,” he reiterated.
On the eve of the DNC in late July, hacked emails revealed that Democratic National Committee members favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders – a disclosure that instantly threw the convention into turmoil. U.S. intelligence agencies would later declare their suspicion that the hack was perpetrated by the Russian government. Trump reveled in the idea, baiting the Russians to interfere further in the election, while Pence vowed there would be “consequences” if the reports turned out to be true.
Trump, July 27th: “Russia, if you are listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said at a press conference. “I think you’ll be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Pence, July 27th: “If it is Russia and they are interfering in our elections, I can assure you both parties and the United States government will ensure there are serious consequences,” he said in a statement.
The Khan family
On the stage at the Democratic convention, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Muslim parents of a U.S. soldier killed in action, delivered a powerful speech criticizing Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric and questioning whether he’d ever read the Constitution. Trump fired back at the Khans, equating sacrifices he says he made in business with the loss of their son, and suggesting Ghazala Khan was forbidden from speaking because of her religion. Pence, meanwhile, said the family should be “cherished.”
Trump, July 30th: “If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably – maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me,” Trump told ABC News. “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve had tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.”
Pence, July 31st: “I think Donald Trump and I see eye to eye on all those issues …. Donald Trump and I both said that Captain Khan is an American hero and his family, like every Gold Star family, should be cherished, and by every American,” he told reporters.
Supporting fellow Republicans
In early August, Trump stunned the GOP faithful when he threatened to withhold endorsements for House Speaker Paul Ryan, Arizona Senator (and onetime Republican nominee) John McCain and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte. Pence voiced support for all three.
Trump, August 2nd: Asked about Paul Ryan’s primary election, Trump told a reporter, “I’m not quite there yet,” an echo of Ryan’s words when Trump was seeking the speaker’s endorsement earlier in the year. (The day before he made those comments, Trump tweeted supportively about Ryan’s primary challenger too.) The same day, he also refused to back McCain, saying, “I’ve never been a big fan of John McCain,” and criticized Ayotte, telling Fox, “I don’t know Kelly Ayotte. I know she’s given me no support – zero support.”
Pence, August 3rd: “I strongly support Paul Ryan, strongly endorse his re-election,” he said of his former colleague. “He is a longtime friend. He’s a strong conservative leader. I believe we need Paul Ryan in leadership in the Congress of the United States.”
Two days later, Pence said of McCain and Ayotte, “I look forward to supporting Republican candidates in the days and weeks ahead all over the country, and so does Donald Trump. But the stakes in this election are so high. To restore our country and home and abroad, we need new leadership, and I’m looking forward to standing shoulder to shoulder with Donald Trump to drive that new leadership forward.” (In case there was any confusion, Pence’s spokesman confirmed, “Mike Pence endorses John McCain and Kelly Ayotte in their primary bids.”)
Trump has, over the years, written a number of tweets asserting that global warming is a hoax – a fact he denied at the first presidential debate last week. Pence, who also called climate change a myth, now accepts it as both real and at least partially caused by humans.
Trump, November 6th, 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” he tweeted.
Pence, this September 27th: “Well, look, there’s no question that the activities that take place in this country and in countries around the world have some impact on the environment and some impact on climate,” he said on CNN.
Pence accepts that President Obama was born in the United States. As recently as September 15th, Trump – one of the leading voices in the birther movement – was unable to say the same.
Trump, September 15th: Asked about his long history of disputing the president’s birthplace, he told the Washington Post, “I don’t talk about it anymore. The reason I don’t is because then everyone is going to be talking about it as opposed to jobs, the military, the vets, security.” During brief, bizarre remarks to the press the following day, the GOP nominee said he now believes Obama was born in the U.S., and promoted a new lie: that Hillary Clinton started the birther controversy and he “finished it.”
Pence, September 7th: “Well, I believe Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, I accept his birthplace,” he told reporters. “I just don’t know where he’s coming from on foreign policy and on economics and on Obamacare.”