US Vice President Mike Pence gestures as he visits the Opera House in Sydney on April 23, 2017. Pence is visiting Australia on a three-day official tour during which he is holding talks with high officials on bilateral and international issues. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / PETER PARKS
Mike Pence has spent many of his first 100 days as US vice president ironing out Trump-induced problems at home and abroad, but he’s also been steadily building political capital of his own.
Whether it’s on an isolated runway in the South Pacific or in a hotel ballroom stateside, a positive meeting or a challenging, Seoul or Sydney, Mike Pence is always “honored” to be there.
The 57-year-old former Indiana governor and congressman has spent much of the last 100 days shuttling around Washington and the world, happily representing an administration that seems to stagger from one crisis to the next.
On his travels, Pence is almost always carrying the political equivalent of a mop and bucket.
His latest trip — a grueling nine-day swing through the Asia-Pacific — saw Pence try to reassure panicky allies that Donald Trump is not about to rip up decades-old mutual defense pacts that underpin the global order.
“His job has been to clean up messes, try to assure foreign leaders and members of Congress and to present the image of governance in times of turbulence,” Julian Zelizer, a political expert at Princeton University, told AFP.
“He is trying to be the better half of this relationship.”
At home, that task has meant trying to rescue Trump’s health care and tax reforms from the legislative shoals.
“He’s been willing to do the shuttle diplomacy it takes to get things done in Congress,” one Republican told AFP, pointing to Pence’s talks with moderates in the so-called “Tuesday Group” and the hardline Freedom Caucus.
“It’s not uncommon to see Pence and his entourage making their way from one end of the Capitol to the other between meetings with House and Senate leaders.”
“Members seem to like and trust him,” the Republican source added.
– Style and substance –
In many ways, Pence is an unlikely messenger for Trump.
A dyed-in-the-wool conservative, Pence is as down-at-home Midwestern nice as his trash-talking New York boss is brash.
He rarely eats out, regularly goes to church and only has the odd sip of wine during a toast.
While Trump loves action movies, Pence compels staff, Secret Service agents and traveling journalists on Air Force Two to watch “Hoosiers” — the tale of an underdog Indiana farm-boy basketball team made good.
While Trump’s family has opted not to join him in the White House, Pence frequently brings his wife Karen and college-aged daughters Charlotte and Audrey on official trips.
Many of his staff have worked for him for years, and show none of the stresses and strains from the back-biting that plagues their West Wing counterparts.
Most notably, while Trump revels in saying what he really thinks — consequences be damned — Pence is almost painfully scripted.
His stock speech changes little from event to event, country to country — aides can recite it almost verbatim — yet the teleprompter often comes out for the most perfunctory remarks.
During his travels, Pence has studiously worked not to eclipse the boss or show any hint of difference with him.
“I bring you greetings from the President of the United States of America,” he often says, stressing he is only there because Trump asked him to be.
If there is political daylight between the two men, then Pence and his staff do their best to make sure it is never seen in public.
“The vice president’s role, other than being the president of the Senate, is 100 percent defined by the president,” said a senior administration official and aide.
“I think you’ve seen up to this point that the two of them have built a very close relationship — they work very well together,” the official said.
“The president and the vice president are constantly talking about what message they want to be conveyed and while their styles may be a little bit different in how they do that, the message is the same.”
And yet, there is a lingering sense in Washington that Pence’s deference may mask a burning political ambition. After all, at just 57 years old, Pence is just a heartbeat away from the presidency.
When the time comes, Pence’s caution and hard work wooing allies may help him more than Trump can.