The Loyalist: VP Pence preserves own presidential prospects

Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence arrive to listen to first lady Melania Trump to speak during the 2020 Republican National Convention from the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Vice President Mike Pence and second lady Karen Pence arrive to listen to first lady Melania Trump to speak during the 2020 Republican National Convention from the Rose Garden of the White House, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – Vice President Mike Pence shuttled through the Capitol's empty, drafty hallways one blustery winter day in search of a breakthrough.

It was January 2019, and the government had been partly shut down for weeks in a standoff between his boss, President Donald Trump, and Democrats who refused to fund his border wall. Shadowed by a security detail, Pence traversed the closed building, fielding gripes and asks from GOP senators, nodding, moving on to his next meeting.

A lurking reporter asked Pence as he passed: What was his role in these critical talks?

“I am the vice president of the United States,” Pence replied levelly, and kept walking.

What that has come to mean after more than three years at Trump's side is a blend of deference when the president insists on dominance and steadiness when Trump offers bombast. Sometimes, as when he sat with his eyes shut during an on-camera spat in the Oval Office between Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Pence opts out all together.

Never crossing Trump has helped the former Indiana governor and congressman survive while tethered to a president who sinks perceived enemies swiftly and publicly. Pence's formal nomination this week as Trump's running mate was a vindication after rumors flew that the president might dump him.

“All my focus is getting this president reelected for four more years,” Pence said in a Fox News Channel interview that aired Tuesday, one day before he is slated to address the convention.

Critics say Pence is deferential to Trump more than any other vice president in history. But the relationship has enabled Pence to elevate causes he prioritizes, such as the anti-abortion movement and religious freedom. And his loyalty helps preserve his own viability as a presidential candidate in 2024.