Former Vice President Mike Pence published his long-awaited autobiography, “So Help Me God,” on Tuesday. For the first time, the former second-in-command to President Donald Trump tells his side of what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, and dishes on plenty of other pivotal moments from their chaotic time together.
As politicians' books go, it is a serious read, packed with new details about Pence's many private conversations with Trump as well as his own closely guarded personal life.
Unlike many other politicians who typically use their tomes to launch presidential bids, Pence, an amateur historian who traces his love of the U.S. Constitution all the way back to his college days, avoids the invectives and proclamations of what ought to be done to “fix” America and instead recounts what did happen in his quite eventful rise to the vice presidency.
The famously tight-lipped Indiana pol’s revelations about Jan. 6 will easily capture the most attention — something Pence teased in a widely distributed excerpt that was published last week in the Wall Street Journal.
But he spills plenty more on his private conversations with Trump, many of which could easily be turned into campaign fodder against Trump himself in 2024.
In their first serious meeting, at the start of July 2016, when Pence was being considered as a running mate, he recounts Trump’s praise for his foreign policy acumen and takes credit for introducing Trump to a hallmark phrase, the “forgotten man.”
Regarding the October 2017 Indianapolis Colts game where Pence famously staged a walkout — five years before chastising Georgetown students for staging a walkout on him — he says it was his idea, not Trump’s, to protest NFL players protesting police brutality by taking a knee during the national anthem. Trump, Pence said, greenlighted it: “You should definitely do that.” (Trump, of course, took credit for the decision in a tweet.)
In other sections — like the chapter about Trump’s pressuring of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, called “A Less-Than-Perfect Phone Call” — Pence does what he often did throughout the Trump administration, distancing himself from the infamous phone call that essentially led to Trump's first impeachment while simultaneously defending him.
And even though Pence spends more time divulging private conversations with his former partner — about three-quarters of the book focuses on his time with Trump, compared with the first part, which is dedicated to how he got to be by Trump’s side — it still offers a road map for his seemingly likely 2024 bid for the White House against his former boss.
Read between the lines of the effusive mutual praise and what one reviewer said are “contortions” worthy of Cirque du Soleil, and what emerges is Pence’s central pitch to voters, donors and any other potential supporters: He delivered the policies that conservatives love while keeping Trump from veering even further off the rails.
But the problem for Pence now, as Republican operatives discuss the book and Trump’s pending launch Tuesday, is that the GOP already has someone who fits that bill and doesn’t carry the baggage of having to explain away myriad bizarre interactions with Trump — specifically Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Missing the window of opportunity is a long-running theme in Pence’s life. As a college student, he cast his very first vote for president in 1980 for the evangelical Christian in the race, Democratic President Jimmy Carter. HIs friends later joked that he was late to the Reagan Revolution. And decades later, after his rapid ascent in Washington and return to Indiana, longtime advisers groused that he had missed his chance to run for president in 2012.
But two years after venting their frustration that Pence might have missed the train back to Washington, he was selected as Trump’s running mate.
Pence, who was dubbed “Mike Dense” by his colleagues during his time in Congress for his outward obtuseness and love of wearing short-sleeved shirts to official meetings, has a way of sticking around in spite of all countervailing forces.
When Bob Woodward wrote his first of three books covering the Trump administration, he came away with the perception that Pence amounted to a veritable coat rack — omnipresent in almost every big Trump meeting but, when not being utterly obsequious, utterly quiet.
Being present, as Pence’s father taught him repeatedly in anecdotes he shares throughout the book, is infinitely valuable. In the inside flaps of the jacket his PR team teases, “Mike Pence spent more hours in the Oval Office than any of his predecessors,” a clear suggestion that Pence was there for almost all of it and now he’s talking about it.
The book jacket closes with the tease that his faith has guided him from his start through Jan. 6 and “keeps him happily at peace, ready for his next challenge.”
But what is impossible to determine at this moment, and could easily be gleaned Tuesday night when Trump is expected to announce his third run for the White House, is whether any of this will work in Pence's favor as he lines up the pieces for his own potential presidential run. Trump could easily engage in the slight of his former lieutenant dishing on him, or he could just as easily ignore it — denying Pence some much-needed oxygen and making his autobiography more about the past than the future.
Cover thumbnail photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images