It’s the vice president’s job to bide his time. He waits for the chance to fulfill one of two duties prescribed by the Constitution: to break tie votes in the Senate or to succeed presidents who cannot finish a term in office. Vice President Mike Pence has already fulfilled the former. After Paul Manafort’s guilty verdict and Michael Cohen’s guilty plea this week, it seems he may fulfill the latter, too.
And if that comes to pass, no one will be less surprised than Pence.
Pence has said that he is “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” This may seem exactly backward to those who’ve watched him assume the role of sycophant in chief to an unusually sinful and not particularly conservative Republican president. But for Pence, his faith and his political ambition are closely tied, perhaps even indistinguishable.
Pence’s former schoolmates at Hanover College recall hearing him say that God planned to make him president. At the time — the late 1970s — Pence was getting to know John Gable, a senior preparing for a lifelong career as an evangelical minister. Gable helped move Pence away from the quiet Catholicism of his family and into a conservative Protestant belief system.
The key to understanding Pence’s version of religion lies in his favorite bit of Scripture, from Jeremiah, which reads, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
This verse is now on display in the vice president’s residence. It is especially popular among Calvinists who believe that God directly orchestrates everything that happens on Earth.
Everything — including Trump’s presidency. The reality star, that is to say, was chosen by God. Granted, he’s not a godly character. But conservative Christians troubled by Trump’s profanity and infidelities can take comfort in the Bible’s story of Cyrus, a pagan king who served God by protecting the Jews. Despite their vast numbers and power, many modern conservative Christians consider themselves to be oppressed like the ancient Jews. If Cyrus helped Jews, then why can’t Trump champion conservative evangelicals?
During the 2016 campaign, an evangelist’s book about Cyrus and Trump — “God’s Chaos Candidate” — became a runaway bestseller in the conservative Christian world. The story of Cyrus was taught in many churches.
Similarly, Pence is regarded by some as a modern version of another Old Testament figure, Daniel, who safeguarded his fellow Jews while functioning as counselor to another pagan ruler, Nebuchadnezzar.
Daniel aided the Israelites by appearing to abandon his Jewishness in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Pence, the argument goes, sets aside his moral standards to retain access to Trump. From his insider perch, he can do more good for religious conservatives than from the outside. And if he were to take that final step to the Oval Office, then the ends would justify the means.
Certainly no one should doubt the vice president’s ambition. He has reinforced his position by seeding the administration with personal allies and building a national campaign organization. Pence, who was a champion fundraiser when he served in Congress, established his Great American political action committee five months after taking office. He was the first vice president ever to establish an independent PAC.
Does Pence really see himself as Daniel and Trump as Nebuchadnezzar? That would go a ways to explain why he has shrugged off scandal after scandal and embraced the cheerleader’s role as Trump’s No. 2. With his fixed smile and continual encouragement, the only thing missing from his performance has been the pompoms.
Indeed, the intensity of Pence’s fawning has led George Will to describe him as “America’s most repulsive figure.” The vice president reached the nadir of his toady ways at the end of last year when he spent three minutes extolling Trump at a Cabinet meeting and managed to work in one note of praise every 12 seconds.
But even in the midst of this sycophancy, he winked to the faithful watching at home. Pence’s insistence that it was a “blessing” and he felt “humbled” to work for Trump made the address sound more like a prayer than a political commentary, which perhaps it was.
Pence believes that God has a plan for him, and if that plan requires him to temporarily abandon his principles as well as his dignity, so be it.
Michael D’Antonio and Peter Eisner are authors of “The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence.” They wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.