Mike Pence: Trump’s humble, Christian and very conservative foil

Mike Pence and Trump

Mike Pence and Trump

When Mike Pence got up to deliver his speech as Donald Trump’s running mate at the Republican convention in Cleveland on Thursday night, he opened with a line of self-deprecating humour that perfectly summed up what he is on the ticket to do.

“You know, (Trump) is a man known for a larger personality, a colourful style and lots of charisma. And so, I guess he was just looking for some balance on the ticket,” deadpanned the governor from Indiana.

Pence, known for his discreet, non-confrontational style, was setting out his stall early, making clear his role as a counterweight to the brash, brazen and what many perceive as off-putting aspects of Trump’s personality.

The 57-year-old Pence may be 13 years Trump’s junior, but he comes across as a wiser, more level-headed proposition than the New York billionaire and knows how to get a crowd on his side, something his former life as a talk show host and legal training may have something to do with.

This would surely have been in Trump’s mind when he picked the relatively unknown Pence as his running mate over some of the more high-profile but outspoken options such as Chris Christie or Newt Gingrich.

‘Christian, conservative and Republican, in that order’

As he spoke on Wednesday night, he gave another indication of why he is on the ticket. “I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order,” he said.

Trump, some of his opponents on the more traditional wing of the Republican party would argue, is none of those things. A casino-owner, two-time divorcee and a man whose adherence to Christianity has been questioned by the Pope himself – Trump has struggled to win over the party’s religious right in particular, who mostly backed Ted Cruz in the primaries.

There are no such doubts about Pence. Born into an Irish Catholic family in Columbus, Indiana, he attended parochial school and served as an altar boy in his youth, before converting to evangelical Christianity in college.

His religion has been at the forefront of his politics ever since he first unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1988 and throughout his tenure as governor of Indiana, a post he has held since 2013, be it through his opposition to abortion or his views on same-sex marriage.

In fact, whereas Trump’s political positions, as far as they are known, are hard to pin down to any one point on the political spectrum, Pence’s are as likely to be as appealing to socially conservative Republicans as they are abhorrent to liberals.

Unity

His record as governor includes restricting access to abortions, preventing Syrian refugees from being resettled in Indiana and signing into law a controversial act that critics say allows businesses to refuse to serve homosexuals on religious grounds.

His economic policies are also more traditionally, laissez faire Republican, as opposed to Trump’s more protectionist stance.

Such a profile is likely to do little to help Trump draw in independents, moderate Republicans or wavering Democrats.

But Pence gives Trump a way to bring his Republican opponents back into the fold at a time when unity within the GOP is sorely lacking – evident when just moments before the Indiana Governor took the stage on Wednesday, Cruz had provoked a chorus of boos by refusing to endorse Trump’s nomination.

Pence also backed Cruz during the primaries, but has no hesitation now in effusing about Trump’s qualities in the name of bringing the party together in the race to beat Hillary Clinton to the White House.

“Donald Trump will rebuild our military and stand with our allies. Donald Trump will confront radical Islamic terrorism at its source and destroy the enemies of our freedom,” he added in a later part of his speech.

He also spoke about Trump’s “utter lack of pretence” and his “respect for the people who work for him and his devotion to his family”.

The Republican nominee for the White House, he said, is a “good man”. Trump will be hoping voters take his word for it.