Is it God’s Plan for Mike Pence to be President?

Vice President Mike Pence at the White House in October. (Credit: Tom Brenner/The New York Times)
Vice President Mike Pence at the White House in October. (Credit: Tom Brenner/The New York Times)

Will the vice president—and the religious right—be rewarded for their embrace of Donald Trump?

No man can serve two masters, the Bible teaches, but Mike Pence is giving it his all. It’s a sweltering September afternoon in Anderson, Indiana, and the vice president has returned to his home state to deliver the Good News of the Republicans’ recently unveiled tax plan. The visit is a big deal for Anderson, a fading manufacturing hub about 20 miles outside Muncie that hasn’t hosted a sitting president or vice president in 65 years—a fact noted by several warm-up speakers. To mark this historic civic occasion, the cavernous factory where the event is being held has been transformed. Idle machinery has been shoved to the perimeter to make room for risers and cameras and a gargantuan American flag, which—along with bleachers full of constituents carefully selected for their ethnic diversity and ability to stay awake during speeches about tax policy—will serve as the TV-ready backdrop for Pence’s remarks.

When the time comes, Pence takes the stage and greets the crowd with a booming “Hellooooo, Indiana!” He says he has “just hung up the phone” with Donald Trump and that the president asked him to “say hello.” He delivers this message with a slight chuckle that has a certain, almost subversive quality to it. Watch Pence give enough speeches, and you’ll notice that this often happens when he’s in front of a friendly crowd. He’ll be witnessing to evangelicals at a mega-church, or addressing conservative supporters at a rally, and when the moment comes for him to pass along the president’s well-wishes, the words are invariably accompanied by an amused little chuckle that prompts knowing laughter from the attendees. It’s almost as if, in that brief, barely perceptible moment, Pence is sending a message to those with ears to hear—that he recognizes the absurdity of his situation; that he knows just what sort of man he’s working for; that while things may look bad now, there is a grand purpose at work here, a plan that will manifest itself in due time. Let not your hearts be troubled, he seems to be saying. I’ve got this.

And then, all at once, Pence is back on message. In his folksy Midwestern drawl, he recites Republican aphorisms about “job creators” and regulatory “red tape,” and heralds the many supposed triumphs of Trump’s young presidency. As he nears the end of his remarks, his happy-warrior buoyancy gives way to a more sober cadence. “We’ve come to a pivotal moment in the life of this country,” Pence soulfully intones. “It’s a good time to pray for America.” His voice rising in righteous fervor, the vice president promises an opening of the heavens. “If His people who are called by His name will humble themselves and pray,” he proclaims, “He’ll hear from heaven, and He’ll heal this land!”

It’s easy to see how Pence could put so much faith in the possibilities of divine intervention. The very fact that he is standing behind a lectern bearing the vice-presidential seal is, one could argue, a loaves-and-fishes-level miracle. Just a year earlier, he was an embattled small-state governor with underwater approval ratings, dismal reelection prospects, and a national reputation in tatters. In many ways, Pence was on the same doomed trajectory as the conservative-Christian movement he’d long championed—once a political force to be reckoned with, now a battered relic of the culture wars.

Because God works in mysterious ways (or, at the very least, has a postmodern sense of humor), it was Donald J. Trump—gracer of Playboy covers, delighter of shock jocks, collector of mistresses—who descended from the mountaintop in the summer of 2016, GOP presidential nomination in hand, offering salvation to both Pence and the religious right. The question of whether they should wed themselves to such a man was not without its theological considerations. But after eight years of Barack Obama and a string of disorienting political defeats, conservative Christians were in retreat and out of options. So they placed their faith in Trump—and then, incredibly, he won.

In Pence, Trump has found an obedient deputy whose willingness to suffer indignity and humiliation at the pleasure of the president appears boundless. When Trump comes under fire for describing white nationalists as “very fine people,” Pence is there to assure the world that he is actually a man of great decency. When Trump needs someone to fly across the country to an NFL game so he can walk out in protest of national-anthem kneelers, Pence heads for Air Force Two.

Meanwhile, Pence’s presence in the White House has been a boon for the religious right. Evangelical leaders across the country point to his record on abortion and religious freedom and liken him to a prophet restoring conservative Christianity to its rightful place at the center of American life. “Mike Pence is the 24-karat-gold model of what we want in an evangelical politician,” Richard Land, the president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary and one of Trump’s faith advisers, told me. “I don’t know anyone who’s more consistent in bringing his evangelical-Christian worldview to public policy.”

But what does Pence make of his own improbable rise to the vice presidency, and how does he reconcile his faith with serving a man like Trump? Over the past several months, I’ve spoken with dozens of people who have known the vice president throughout his life—from college fraternity brothers and longtime friends to trusted advisers and political foes. (Pence himself declined my requests for an interview.) While many of them expressed surprise and even bewilderment at the heights of power Pence had attained, those who know him best said he sees no mystery in why he’s in the White House. “If you’re Mike Pence, and you believe what he believes, you know God had a plan,” says Ralph Reed, an evangelical power broker and a friend of the vice president’s.

Pence has so far showed absolute deference to the president—and as a result he has become one of the most influential figures in the White House, with a broad portfolio of responsibilities and an unprecedented level of autonomy. But for all his aw-shucks modesty, Pence is a man who believes heaven and Earth have conspired to place him a heartbeat—or an impeachment vote—away from the presidency. At some crucial juncture in the not-too-distant future, that could make him a threat to Trump.

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SOURCE: MCKAY COPPINS 
The Atlantic