Where Pence can claim credit – and where he doesn’t want it – for Trump accomplishments
As Donald Trump’s No. 2, Mike Pence knew not to overshadow his boss.
When Trump wondered why he wasn’t the one delivering a get-tough-on-China speech that was generating attention, Pence reminded him they’d gone over every line together.
After Trump realized millions of people were tuning in to the COVID-19 briefings led by the vice president, he reclaimed the spotlight.
And when Trump said his schedule wouldn’t allow him to address abortion opponents at their 2017 March for Life, Pence – one of the movement’s top champions – gingerly responded, “Well, you know, they actually invited me, too.”
Now that Pence is running against Trump (and many others) for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, might he start taking more credit for his role in their administration?
There are accomplishments, such as a 2017 package of tax cuts, for which Pence can legitimately say he helped Trump close the deal, said Scott Jennings, a Republican political adviser who has worked for President George W. Bush and Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell.
The problem for Pence, Jennings said, is the buck always stops with the president.
“I think it’s a difficult thing to argue,” he said, “because of the structural nature of how we view the presidency and the vice presidency.”
For Pence, whose approach to the vice presidency was rooted in his belief in “servant leadership,” it’s also not in his nature to say, `Hey, I did this thing,’” said Marc Short, a top Pence adviser who served as his chief of staff.
“But I think you’ll see a natural separation, because Mike will still championing some of those things that I think President Trump is probably less comfortable with,” he said.
Differences with Trump
That separation has already occurred on such issues as abortion, foreign policy, immigration, criminal justice and Social Security.
Pence has distanced himself from Trump’s policy of separating migrant families at the border – a practice that another former Trump administration official has said Pence was instrumental in ending.
He has called for a “step back” from the First Step Act, Trump’s criminal justice act that reduced sentences for thousands of prisoners.
He has criticized Trump for calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a genius, saying: “I know the difference between a genius and a war criminal.”
He is advocating changes to Social Security and Medicare, accusing Trump of being as negligent as he says President Joe Biden is in not addressing those expensive programs’ impact on the budget deficit.
And he has accused Trump of “retreating from the cause of the unborn,” a reference in part to Trump’s blaming Republicans’ underperformance in the 2022 midterms to many Republicans demanding no exceptions on abortion restrictions.
Pence is “proud of what they did for four years,” Short said. “But his concern is, candidly, the former president is now walking away from much of what they accomplished.”
In response, Trump campaign spokesperson Liz Harrington named a long list of Trump’s “historic” accomplishments, including tax cuts, appointing three Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, renegotiating a North American trade deal and getting tough on China.
“And the best is yet to come,” Harrington said.
Unusually influential vice president?
At the start of the Trump-Pence administration, there was much speculation that Pence could be an unusually influential vice president. Trump was the first president to have had no political or military background. And he hadn’t shown much interest in the nuts and bolts of the job.
Before their inauguration, Pence – who had served a dozen years in Congress and one term as Indiana’s governor − was being referred to in the media as Trump’s “chief fixer on Capitol Hill,” the “Oarsman for The Swamp,” and “key to the first 100 days.”
“He was who lawmakers & cabinet officials knew to go to for help,” Alyssa Farah Griffin, an aide first to Pence and then Trump, tweeted last November.
Businesses, trade associations and other interests looking for help from the administration beat a path to Pence’s door. No vice president has been lobbied as heavily as Pence since lobbying disclosure rules began in 1998.
In Pence’s memoir, “So Help Me God,” he describes convincing Mexican officials that Trump was serious about imposing tariffs on Mexican products unless migrants seeking asylum in the U.S. could wait in Mexico while their cases were reviewed.