Over the past eight years, Mike Pence has gone from a skeptic of Donald J. Trump to his staunchly loyal Vice President to the target of his strongest supporters during the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. Now he is one of a growing number opponents of Mr. Trump in the Republican presidential primaries.
Mr. Pence was elected governor of Indiana in 2012 after serving six terms in the House of Representatives, where he became the chairman of the Republican conference, the third-highest position in the House Republican leadership. He quit his campaign for re-election as governor when Trump named him his running mate in 2016.
Here are five things you should know about Mr. Pence.
He was perhaps the most staunch Trump loyalist.
Before Mr. Trump was nominated in 2016, Mr. Pence — like many Republicans — was critical of him. In 2015, among others mentioned Mr. Trump’s suggestion to ban Muslims from entering the United States “offensive and unconstitutional.”
But once Mr. Pence agreed to be Mr. Trump’s running mate, he went all in. Though he said in 2016 that he wouldn’t be Mr. Trump’s “cleanup crew,” he eventually became Mr. Trump’s most trusted defender, regularly calling on to explain or distort controversies, advise cabinet secretaries and lawmakers, and giving the candidate and president a more traditional and religiously conservative veneer.
He remained on the ticket in October 2016 after the release of the “Access Hollywood” recording in which Mr. Trump bragged about assaulting women. He assisted Mr. Trump during the Robert S. Mueller investigation and Mr. Trump’s initial impeachment. He was so loyal that Vice Presidential Historian Joel K. Goldstein dubbed him the “Chief.”
At some points, the commitment was hesitant – most notably in the case of the “Access Hollywood” tape. A 2019 Politico report detailed Mr Pence’s response: he told advisers he wasn’t sure he could stay on the ticket, then cut off contact with the campaign while he deliberated, not even showing up at a rally that he had planned. to attend. His wife, Karen Pence, told him she would not appear in public if he stayed with Mr. Trump.
He did. And in doing so, he positioned himself for his own presidential run.
“They’re thinking about entering themselves in 2020 because they don’t expect Donald Trump to win,” Tom LoBianco, a reporter who wrote a biography of Mr. Pence, told NPR, describing the Pence team’s calculations . in 2016.
But Mr. Trump won in 2016, so the focus turned to 2024. Never wanting to alienate the party leader whose nomination he coveted, or the Republican voters whose loyalty was clear, Mr. Pence scrupulously ignored policies and behaviors he could not defend .
But he reached his limit on January 6.
More than four years of servility ended on January 6, 2021, when Mr. Pence fulfilled his constitutional obligation to certify the electoral college votes of the 2020 presidential election.
In doing so, he defied weeks of pressure from Mr. Trump to either reverse the election results himself, or return the election lists to state legislatures for them to destroy, based on false claims of election fraud. He also made a permanent enemy of much of the Republican base.
He later condemned Mr. Trump’s incitement to the attack on the Capitol, which was led by a mob trying to stop the certification and chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”
“The president’s words at the rally that day put me and my family and everyone in the Capitol at risk,” he told ABC News in November. It’s a sentiment he’s echoed multiple times since — including at the annual Gridiron Club dinner in March, where he declared that “history will hold Donald Trump to account.”
At the same time, Mr. Pence sought to avoid testifying in investigations into Mr. Trump’s actions. In early April, after a protracted legal battle, he said he would not appeal a ruling that forced him to testify before a grand jury. He testified on April 27.
He underwent two major conversions early on.
Mr. Pence grew up in a Roman Catholic and Democratic family and voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980. But he broke with both ties and became an evangelical Christian in college and then a conservative Republican. He has said that his religious conversion was driven by a desire for a more personal relationship with God.
He has described how his religion affects every aspect of his life – he refuses to eat alone with women other than his wife and, when he was in Congress, only allowed male aides to work with him until late – and his politics, especially his opposition to abortion.
Mr. Pence also opposes same-sex marriage and has suggested that Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized it nationally, violates religious freedom. In Congress, he voted against protections against employment discrimination for gay people, and, like many other Republicans, described the affirmation of transgender students as “radical gender ideology”.
In 2015, as governor of Indiana, he drew national attention for the signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which sparked outrage over the possibility of empowering business owners to refuse service to LGBTQ people. Amazed by the strength of the resistance, Mr. Pence and Republican lawmakers amended the law to say it would not allow such discrimination, a retraction that some Christian conservatives saw as a setback.
He supports a federal ban on abortion and would give fetuses a legal “personality.”
As a congressman, Mr. Pence the first major federal effort to defund Planned Parenthood. As Indiana governor, he signed every anti-abortion bill that reached his office, including a 2016 law that banned abortions based on fetal race, sex, or disability and required fetal remains to be cremated or buried. (A judge blocked it, and the Supreme Court refused to reinstate the ban, instead upholding the cremation or burial mandate.)
And today Mr. Pence one of the few prominent Republicans to maintain a hard public line on abortion after backlash over the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling made it a clear liability in a general election.
He has said opponents of abortion “should not rest” until it is banned nationwide, and criticized a suggestion by Mr Trump that abortion policies should be left to states. His political organization, Advancing American Freedom, has passed federal bills to ban abortion after about six weeks — before many people know they are pregnant — and to establish fetal personality, which would grant legal rights from conception and make abortion illegal without, or almost no, exceptions.
He was also one of the only presidential candidates to praise a Texas judge’s ruling (temporarily blocked by the Supreme Court) that invalidated the Food and Drug Administration’s 23-year-old approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. “I fully support efforts to remove the abortion pill from the market,” he told a local Fox station in California.
His responses to public health crises have come under scrutiny.
In 2015, Mr. Pence faced a crisis in Scott County, Ind., where HIV exploded among intravenous drug users. For weeks he resisted calls from health officials for a program that would provide clean needles, a policy he opposed on the grounds that it would allow drug abuse.
NewsMadura reported in 2016 that Mr. Pence’s staff were initially unwilling to discuss a needle exchange program, or engage with scientific evidence that such programs reduce the risk of infections without the drug use to increase.
After much insistence, Mr. Pennies off course. (“I’m going to go home and pray about it,” he told his health commissioner shortly before conceding.) Once approved, the needles program quickly brought the outbreak under control. Some 200 people were infected, a number that could have been lower in an earlier response.
This episode received attention again in 2020, when Mr. Trump put Mr. Pence in charge of the administration’s handling of the coronavirus. The job — leading a pandemic response for a government that was actively trying to avoid leading a pandemic response — was unenviable. Mr. Pence’s job was often to clean up after Mr. Trump’s misinformation, and he himself provided some inaccurate information.
He argued in his memoir “So Help Me God” that the response had been successful. “I know we saved millions of lives,” he wrote, even though the United States had a higher death rate from Covid than most other developed countries — a dismal distinction that continued under President Biden.