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Meet Pence, Trump’s little-known running mate who started as a Democrat

Donald Trump insisted Saturday Mike Pence, the Indiana governor he picked as his running mate, was his “first choice” and called him a “solid, solid person”.

us presidential election Updated: Jul 17, 2016 20:38 IST
Yashwant  Raj
Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump applauds introducing Indiana Governor Mike Pence (L) as his vice presidential running mate in New York City.
Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump applauds introducing Indiana Governor Mike Pence (L) as his vice presidential running mate in New York City.(Reuters file)

Donald Trump insisted Saturday Mike Pence, the Indiana governor he picked as his running mate, was his “first choice” and called him a “solid, solid person”.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominees may still have been trying to convince himself that he had made the right choice. He wasn’t sure up until Thursday, the day before he was expected to announce his vice-presidential pick.

But the word was already out. In a state of panic Trump is said to have asked his closest advisers if there was a way to get out of it, and go with one of the others on his shortlist.

The 57-year-old Pence is most unlike Trump. He is understated where Trump is over the top, he keeps a low-profile while the real-estate magnate is all about himself, all the time.

And many had not even heard of Pence despite a long career in politics. A recent poll showed 74% Americans had not heard of him enough to form an opinion of him.

In another poll, a combined 68% of the respondents had either not heard of him or didn’t have an opinion about him. No wonder Trump seemed uncertain.

Trump was also weighing former speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who turned an early backer after dropping out of the race for the White House.

Both men are known around the country, perhaps as much as Trump himself — Gingrich ran for the Republican ticket in 2012 against Mitt Romney.

Christie built a reputation as a tough-talking governor who hurled headlong into confrontations, not very unlike Trump, who, in fact, turned out to be better at it.

Pence, on the other hand, seems cut from a different cloth. He is quiet, generally non-controversial, and quick to back out of confrontations as he did on a 2015 anti-gay and lesbian order.

Within a week of signing into law a legislation that allowed Indiana businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers, he backed down in the face of a country-wide backlash.

Pence is opposed to same-sex marriages and abortions. He doesn’t believe in climate change. And unlike Trump, he is an avowed supporter of multi-nation trade deals.

He is a “pretty basic guy”, Pence said about himself accepting Trump’s offer Saturday, and went on to describe himself as “Christian, conservative and Republican, in that order”.

But he wasn’t always a Republican. Heroes of his youth, he said, were John F Kennedy, the Democratic president, and Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights movement leader.

“I actually started politics in the other party,” he said. That was probably neither surprising nor hard to imagine as he came from a family of Irish immigrants who were Democrats

But when he came of age, in his telling of his political transformation, he found Ronald Reagan, a Republican, and was “inspired by the ideals and eloquence of our fortieth president”.

After a brief stint as a lawyer, Pence began seeking public office but lost his first two runs for the House of Representatives, and came under a cloud for using campaign fund for personal use.

Chastened by the scandal — which led to the use of campaign funds for personal use declared as illegal — he conducted a state-wide apology tour.

Pence finally entered the House in 2001. He went on to serve six terms before running for governor, and won in 2012, the year President Barack Obama won his second term.

And as he was getting ready to run for a second term, he got a call from Trump Wednesday and was soon on the Republican ticket after a whirlwind screening process.