President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to empower his running mate Mike Pence to steer the presidential transition gives the soon-to-be vice president a powerful hand in shaping the incoming government and could foreshadow that he will play an outsized role in the White House.
Pence’s ascension is in line with a recent trend toward influential vice presidents and appears similar to the last vice president who was handed the keys to a presidential transition: Dick Cheney.
As the nation was embroiled in the recount after the 2000 election, George W Bush informally entrusted Cheney to begin building the government even before the outcome was settled in favour of the Republican ticket. Some of the work was done sitting around Cheney’s kitchen table in McLean, Virginia, remembered Ari Fleischer, who became Bush’s first press secretary.
“This is a big test for Pence,” Fleischer told The Associated Press. “If it goes well, it will portend a bigger job for him in the White House.”
Cheney clearly passed that test and became one of the most powerful vice presidents in recent memory, particularly during Bush’s first term.
Cheney not only ran Bush’s vice presidential search team eventually picking himself -- he stocked the administration with veteran Republicans, many of whom he had known for years.
“The vice president was so influential he barely spoke in meetings because he knew he would see the president alone and could convey his thoughts privately,” said Fleischer.
“Only the truly powerful can be that silent. And when he did talk, it was pretty impactful.”
It is far too soon to say if Pence will have a similar voice in Trump’s White House, but naming him the chairman of the transition team broadcasts to others in Washington that he will be a key player.
“If you’re given an important role in the transition, it sends a signal to other people that you matter,” said Joel K. Goldstein, a law professor at St. Louis University who is widely considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the sometimes obscure history of the vice presidency.
“Other political actors want to deal with you due to your perceived access and influence to the president.”
It also gives the vice president a chance to put his own stamp on the administration. While Trump ran as a political outsider and was not shy in burning bridges to establishment Washington, Pence is a popular GOP figure who may opt to select long time allies for key roles.