For the past year or so, Donald Trump has been content to remain front and center while he unexpectedly gained the majority of Republican support across the country and became the party’s candidate for president. Trump doesn’t seem ready to relinquish the limelight anytime soon, but he has begun to share the stage occasionally with his pick for vice president, Mike Pence.
Pence was relatively unknown on a national scale before Trump’s announcement, but it’s time we learned a bit more about the Indiana governor who could become the most powerful vice president in history. According to The Atlantic, Trump’s vision for the post will be much more hands-on than it has been in the past. By some accounts, the veep could be in charge of domestic and foreign policy while Trump handles… something else. Planning a presidential golf course instead of a boring, traditional library, perhaps.
Regardless, it’s clear that the relatively unknown Pence is in for a totally different kind of publicity than what he’s had in his career so far. FiveThirtyEight has called Pence the “least worst choice” for Trump, topping short-list candidates Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie for the spot on the ticket. Pence isn’t without his political skeletons, but he’s less known (and less despised) than the other viable options for the VP spot. “… If Pence isn’t quite a risk-free choice, he’d be better than one who was guaranteed to be unpopular,” FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver concluded.
If you’d never heard of Pence before the announcement, here are some things to know about him.
1. His motto could be “Try, try again”
Pence made his first attempt to enter a life of public service when he was 29 years old, running for a congressional seat. He lost that election, and one the following election cycle, but eventually became a U.S. Representative for Indiana in 2000. He served there for 12 years until successfully winning the governor’s seat four years ago.
Though Pence’s new position would be quite a promotion from being Indiana’s governor, Pence didn’t have his re-election race sewn up. Before withdrawing from the governor’s election, Pence was in a tight race against former opponent John Gregg — touted as a “gun-totin’, Bible-quotin’, Southern Indiana Democrat.” In 2012, Pence beat Gregg by just 3.2 percentage points. In fact, the race made The Washington Post’s list of governor’s races most likely to flip parties this year.
2. He’s the one at the center of the religious freedom debate last year
If you recognize Pence’s name at all and you live outside of Indiana, it’s probably from when the state gained national attention for signing into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would have allowed businesses to deny services to gay people for religious reasons. Pence eventually signed an amendment saying the law couldn’t be used to discriminate against the gay community, but the governor’s approval rating took a major hit, both from Democrats and LGBTQ activists.
Afterward, he also managed to anger the social conservatives who pushed for the bill in the first place by rendering the law essentially toothless. Many point to this political controversy as one of the reasons Pence has struggled to maintain support for his re-election as governor. Pence spent copious amounts of money in efforts to convince businesses to keep their money in Indiana, but it still became the butt of jokes and ridicule, even earning a mention in President Obama’s 2015 White House Correspondent’s Dinner speech.
3. He used to have a talk radio show
The Mike Pence Show was syndicated on 18 radio stations throughout Indiana from 1992 until 1999, and was a talk show orchestrated by Pence himself. Pence described himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf,” using his mic to take pot shots at the establishment in D.C. and at home in Indiana.
According to Politico, a survey of old recordings shows a Pence who was learning how to communicate his ideals to the public at large — even though the audience wasn’t booming like it was for Limbaugh, Howard Stern, or other talk show hosts whose heydays began in the 1990s.
Perhaps in an effort to try to communicate in a similar way once he was governor, Pence tried to create Just IN, a state-run news outlet that would bypass traditional media and allow the governor’s office to broadcast news themselves. The proposal was deemed propaganda at best, and was eventually scrapped after significant backlash.
4. He endorsed Ted Cruz
It’s very likely Trump didn’t get Pence’s vote in the Indiana primary earlier this year. Pence dragged his feet on officially endorsing any Republican candidate in the days leading up to the state’s primary election, but eventually said that he’d be supporting Cruz. “I see Ted Cruz as a principled conservative who has dedicated his career to advocating the Reagan agenda,” Pence said.
However, ever the politician, Pence did add that he wasn’t “against anybody” in the race, leaving the door open for changing his support. That was savvy on his part, since Trump ended up winning Indiana by almost 20 percentage points and Cruz suspended his campaign following the primary.
5. He doesn’t agree with Trump on everything
Before and after accepting a spot on the Republican ticket, Pence has not been a wholehearted supporter of Trump’s ideals. In December 2015, Pence came out hard against Trump’s call for a ban on all Muslim immigration, calling it “offensive and unconstitutional” in a tweet. He’s changed his tune as of late, though.
One article from Slate details just a few more things the two candidates don’t agree on — or at least have made divisive public statements about. Their disagreements span a range of topics, including trade agreements, abortion, the legacy of Saddam Hussein, and whether or not President Obama was born in the United States.
One of the largest seeming disagreements was the decision to go to war in Iraq following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Trump has attacked opponent Hillary Clinton for voting in favor of the war on multiple occasions. However, Pence also voted for the measure at the time. “I don’t care,” Trump said of Pence’s vote in favor of the war, when pressed by 60 Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl. “He’s entitled to make a mistake every once in a while.”