“Do you want to see something really cool?”
Sure. I was with Liz Murphy, an aide to Vice President Dan Quayle, and we were in his ornate office at the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House a couple of decades ago. We ended up before an antique colonial revival-style double-pedestal desk Theodore Roosevelt brought to the White House in 1903.
Murphy pulled open the desk drawer, which was empty, save for the signatures of vice presidents. There were Nixon’s, Truman’s, George H.W. Bush’s, and of course Quayle’s. I looked for Thomas R. Marshall’s, but the signature tradition didn’t begin until the 1940s.
Marshall served as Indiana governor a century before Mike Pence did. Marshall became President Woodrow Wilson’s veep and found the job stultifying. They disagreed on an array of issues. After Wilson’s stroke late in his presidency, it was his wife Edith, and not Marshall, who ran the government. It was described as “functioning animosity.”
But the Hoosier gave us an enduring quote. During a Senate debate on the needs of the nation, Marshall quipped to Sen. Joseph Bristow, “What this country needs is a really good 5-cent cigar.”
Today, Gov. Pence is 70 days away from following Marshall’s footsteps into the Old Executive Office Building. At some point near the end of his term in 2021 or, perhaps, 2025, Pence will sign the Roosevelt desk.
It is an incredible political revival. There was so much controversy during the Pence era that I once described it as the “exploding cigar governorship.” The Religious Freedom Restoration Act debacle essentially ended a conceived presidential campaign that would have thrust him in the company of Trump. He faced a tough gubernatorial rematch with Democrat John Gregg.
Pence responded by giving me a box of Punch cigars (one of my favorites, by the way). The man had a sense of humor he used to beguile those taking exception to policy and practice.
Many believed Pence was on the path to political extinction in 2016. When dozens of prominent Republicans turned their backs on Trump, Pence did what Quayle did in the summer of 1988. He conceived, then orchestrated a lifeline strategy to get on the ticket. This reached a dramatic crescendo in early July when Pence hosted Trump at a Columbia Club fundraiser, auditioned for him at a Westfield sports complex and dined with him that night.
Mysteriously, Trump’s gilded jet had “mechanical” issues at the Indianapolis Airport, so Trump spent the night at the Conrad Hotel, then had breakfast with the Pences at the Governor’s Residence.
We now know via the reporting of the New York Post and New York Times that the jet malfunction was a strategy of then-campaign manager Paul Manafort to keep Trump in the company of the Hoosier governor. The Trump children and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were pushing Pence for the ticket.
Trump wanted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. We know now that it was Kushner who sent the charter flight to pick up the Pences that Thursday. We watched him disembark at Teterboro, and then came the news reports that Trump was fuming, angered by the leaks be believed came from the Pence staff in Indiana.
Mike and Karen Pence had to be twisting, twisting, twisting in the Trumpian winds for a night, until that Friday when the ticket was finally forged. What has evolved is a strange, strange synergy. Pence and Trump apparently have established a working relationship in a campaign culture that was effectively dysfunctional and dysfunctionally effective.
Tim Alberta writes in the National Review that while Pence was once a true believer in social policy, he is now a Trump acolyte, saying, “The American people know we can be stronger. They know we can be more prosperous. But they know we’ve got to have new leadership. So I really believe — I really believe — that we’re on our way to a victory.”
Many chuckled by Pence’s assertion. They are not today.
Pence could have defeated John Gregg, but it was no sure thing. If he hadn’t made it on to the Trump ticket, if it were the Trump/Christie ticket instead, all three might have gone down to defeat. The conviction of two top Christie aides in the “Bridgegate” scandal could have doomed them all.
Instead, there was an anti-Hillary Clinton surge, and it’s Vice President-Elect Pence. He will some day find himself bending over that desk drawer with a Sharpie, affixing his name near Nixon’s and Quayle’s.
There is talk that Trump will operate as an uber executive setting broad policy strokes, and it will be Pence who will do the down-and-dirty work of getting them implemented in a Congress, seething with Trump doubters and detractors. Pence, some believe, will become a very powerful vice president. Others believe the wolf Trump will ultimately consume Pence and that functional animosity is a real possibility.
We shall see.
Regardless, Pence is nearing the apex of his power, into the upper reaches of his profound ambition, perhaps eventually to the Oval Office.
Have a cigar, governor.