In preparation for what is sure to be a busy 2024 presidential election season in the United States, I turned to this memoir by Mike Pence, former Vice-President under POTUS 45, The Donald. While I was always baffled how Pence could stay quiet during those four years and not want to tear out his hair, I was also keen to understand the man, his choices, and the life he lived before he came onto my radar in the summer of 2016. This book does a wonderful job at that, offering insights and views I had not considered, doing some in a mostly rational and calm manner. While I cannot agree with everything within these pages, I can respect the view that is told with fact and calm justification.
Michael Pence grew up in a religious family in a small Indiana town. His Catholic upbringing brought with it a connection to politics and an affinity for the likes of JFK. Pence speaks of how he admired the man and followed him however he could, through his mother’s passions for the president, even though Pence also saw some of the benefits of the GOP. Pence used that strong connection to God to guide him through a number of scenarios, including class choices and how he would do in a post-secondary world. While he was not entirely sold on the idea, Pence sat for his law school entrance exams and did, after a few stumbles, get access, where his mind would open to many other things.
It was his life on campus that really opened Pence’s eyes to a world in which God and Jesus could guide him. Pence explores his personal faith and how this connection, fostered through Bible study and prayer, helped lead him in a certain direction he still follows today. He studied hard, fell for a woman who held his same beliefs, and began making plans for a future he hoped would include a family and a further connection with his Higher Power.
Pence had his political epiphany with the election of Ronald Regan in 1980 and turned to the GOP for good. He felt the spark of political service and sought to run for office, after a few years of getting his feet wet within Indiana’s state process. While Pence was not successful, he did not let this deter him and eventually won a seat in Congress in 2000. With a family now, Pence had new priorities and tried his best to balance parenthood with serving his state and the country, which proved to be a struggle at times. Pence offers some great insight into life as a congressman, as well as how he stood his own against the likes of George W. Bush, never bowing when he felt he was right, but always keeping the respect of those around him. This would prove to be a key stepping stone in his political future and make him a name to be remembered on the national stage.
Pence also recounts the important decision to leave Washington when Indiana needed him most, chosen to hold onto the Republican governorship in the state. This would be a new challenge, with its own struggles, but Pence sought to serve his state as best he could, adding new and sometimes troubling responsibilities to his list of future qualifications. I found it interesting to see how Pence handled some of the issues, justifying his perspective and only mildly trying to vilify the left media, tossing out ‘woke’ when he did not fit with his agenda. However, he does this in a mostly respectful manner and leaves the reader to see that his perspective, while different, had some merit and should not be swiftly dismissed. This means of explaining things would prove helpful in the years to come, even if he appeared outwardly statuesque in the face of chaos.
Pence explores his preparing to run for re-election as governor and how that led to some interesting times in 2016, with a presidential race taking place. While Pence was not supporting Trump from the outset, his honesty makes the foible seem less problematic. Pence discusses meeting its Candidate Trump and how this led to him being considered for the ticket after the GOP nomination had been secured. Ever-humble and praying on matters, Pence agreed to be the vice-presidential candidate when asked and the campaign moved forward. Pence glosses over a great deal, it does make it seem as though he was no sycophant, simply able to let God handle the rough waters in which Trump tossed the ticket through to Election Night.
After winning election, Pence began a new journey, which he explains in the next portion of the book. From leading the Transition to taking the vice-presidential role, Pence offers tidbits of information, always showing that he and Trump were in agreement on issues and stances. Pence makes his role as second-in-command appear genuinely interesting and does not paint himself to be a lapdog, even though I surmise there is more to the story, which he chooses not to put to paper. His ‘here to serve’ comes off as slightly more ‘granola’, given the circumstances, but I only have Pence’s own words to use as reference.
As the book progresses, Pence begins discussing key policy issues, peppering in some of the larger issues around a shutdown and interactions with foreign leaders. Pence does a great job of showing how he served well to represent America’s needs, at least through the lens of what POTUS felt needed accomplishing. While this is admirable, there remains an almost naïveté when discussing things that arose in which POTUS could be flying off the handle or abusing his power. ‘He would never do that’ or ‘the left-wing media is fabricating’, became regular deflections in the book. Perhaps this is an ostrich sentiment, but the reader must also take into account that Pence, who may want to enter the 2024 race, cannot be too truthful so as to alienate himself from the base he hopes to appease For the nomination, This does contrast with his time in Congress, when Pence said he would serve not for what the party wanted, but what he felt was correct.
No book would be complete without some discussion of the COVID-19 response. While much of the narrative does follow the clear story that came out of the White House, Pence is keen to point fingers and pat backs to ensure that the Trump Administration receives the glory. While this is to be expected, Pence makes sure the reader sees the superhero tactics that Trump undertook and the foibles garnered by the Democrats as everyone was trying to figure out this pandemic. Pence uses an odd form of forecasting to dump on the Biden Administration’s handling of things (yes, the president AFTER Trump and who inherited the mess), as though that should distract the reader from what happened in 2020. It is unfortunate that Pence could not distance himself from his own president, whose actions were documented on televisions around the world and added additional panic to an already chaotic situation.
This blame game continued in the 2020 presidential campaign, which was mixed with new race riots across the United States. Rather than admit that things were getting out of hand and that police acted horribly, Pence chose to point the finger at the left to say that they were fanning the flames and making things worse. It is obvious that there were issues on both sides of the aisle, with protesting and law enforcement, but Pence refuses to offer clear-cut blames other than commenting that the George Floyd video was disturbing. As Pence peddles to law enforcement, in an attempt to have the support for his being tough on crime, he loses the larger view that America was in a struggling situation and was being led by a man who accepted White supremacists into his tent. Pence had the chance to stand up and say ‘NO’, but chose to criticise the as-yet victorious Biden Administration for not keeping control after January 20, 2021. Baffling but surely, again, in an attempt to keep a favourable view by potential supporters.
Campaign rhetoric itself was as per usual, both sides slinging mud and making accusations, with vote counting and outlandish stories emerging as they tried to explain how Russia did not do enough to corrupt another election for Trump’s victory. While Pence appeared to take the loss on Election Day in stride, he had to deal with the mayhem and chaos that is Trump. The accusations, the childish tantrums, and even the talk of refusing to accept the results. While Pence surely felt the defeat, he was, for the most part, happy to accept what the democratic process brought about. However, in his own words, he did violate the democratic process in one of his ceremonial roles, which is worth mention.
Perhaps the part of the book I was most interesting in read was how Pence handled the post-election fallout and his role as President of the Senate to preside over the review of the Electoral College votes. Pence had the role, as mentioned above, and was prepared to serve it. He did not let Trump or others try to push him into believing that he had more power than he did, for which he is to be commended. However, what did trouble me was Pence’s admission in those early days that he kept speaking at rallies and to candidates not to give up and to challenge everything until the last moment. Pence should not have been wearing his Republican candidate hat, knowing that he was to preside over the results. He should not have been involved in any discussion of vote counting, irregularities, or anything related to the election because of his role, albeit ceremonial, in the Senate on January 6, 2021. While it appears clear that he was not drinking the Trump Kool-Aid and seeking to overthrow the democratic process, he should have known better. That Trump did it in such a deplorable manner surely casts a great distraction over Pence’s actions, but they cannot be ignored.
This was a great and refreshing book, even though it was full of cringe-worthy moments of sycophancy and turning to prayer in order to solve all issues. Pence has experienced much and has a wonderful way of conveying it to the reader. While I do not agree with a great deal of his politics, I can see his perspective and sense of hands-off when it comes to governing. How he was able to stand with lips glued shut as the presidency became a joke, I will never know, but I applaud him for his attempts to make the most of it. Do I hope he runs in 2024? Most definitely, as he has a lot to offer the Republican base and appears to have himself grounded in a clear political way of thinking. Should he, given the option, agree to run on a Trump ticket? Absolutely not, as he has been sullied by his connection with the man and could do so much better for himself. A great book that forced me to step back and look at things from another perspective, though I worry Pence tried a little too hard not to upset the Trump applecart and curried favour with the GOP base who might be upset that someone within the party would criticise a leader.
Kudos, Mr. Pence, for an intriguing look inside the chaos that was the Trump Administration. I wish you the best of luck and will see how the future treats you.