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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > July 2017 > Be careful what you wish for

Be careful what you wish for

Mike Pence is the smooth ideologue who’s next in line if Trump falls

As scandal engulfs Donald Trump’s presidency, attention has turned, increasingly, to the man who would stand to gain from his downfall—Vice President Mike Pence. In May, hearings took place in the House of Representatives and Senate on the growing evidence of election-meddling by Russia. The FBI launched an investigation. Then in June, James Comey, the former head of the FBI, testified before Congress about Trump’s attempts to influence that investigation. Now Trump is officially under FBI investigation for obstruction of justice. Republicans in Washington and Conservatives across the United States are beginning to imagine a post-Trump world. They are whispering “President Pence.”

As vice president, Pence is the second-highest official in the land, a “heartbeat” away from the top job. But he has no actual power or even meaningful duties, apart from casting the deciding vote on the rare occasion when the Senate is deadlocked. “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived,” moaned John Adams, the nation’s first vice president, in 1793. Yet it was also Adams who said, “I am nothing, but I may be everything.” And so it proved when he succeeded George Washington, a move that has been repeated many times since. The vice presidency remains the surest route, however winding, to the presidency. It was the path taken by unloved figures like Richard Nixon and George HW Bush. The death of incumbent presidents elevated Harry Truman (1945) and Lyndon Johnson (1963). The most resonant example today may be Gerald Ford, vice president during the Watergate scandal that ended Nixon’s presidency and the most unlikely of all “accidental” presidents.

Pence has wisely tried to quell all such talk. It can only injure him with Trump, who is thin-skinned even at the best of times and vindictive when things turn against him, as they seem to do almost daily. Possible tension between the two men may also arise from their stark temperamental differences—the roguish Trump vs the pure, devoutly Christian Republican Pence. Reports that Pence refuses to dine alone with any woman who is not his wife—he allegedly calls Mrs Pence “mother”—led to a snicker-fest on Twitter, summed up neatly in the Los Angeles Times. Were Pence’s precautions “a sign of marital devotion and respect? Or a signal that the Pences don’t trust Mike Pence to be alone with a woman? Or perhaps don’t trust a woman to be alone with Mike Pence?”

It is easy enough to laugh at Pence’s social conservatism, but it is precisely his profile as a cultural and religious warrior that got him on to Trump’s ticket. He is a cleansing agent, a balm to rightwing moralists who were offended by Trump’s all-purpose ungodliness. Pence, we may suppose, is offended too. After the release in October of the Access Hollywood recording in which Trump was heard lewdly boasting about kissing and grabbing women without their consent, Pence twisted himself in knots, first saying that Trump’s “words and actions” were indefensible, but then insisting they were mere words, after all. What the deeply-conservative vice president really thinks of Trump’s three marriages, his stated willingness to treat women in the crudest way and his association with the Miss Universe beauty pageant, one can only guess.

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In Prospect’s July issue: Steve Richards, Rachel Sylvester and Shiv Malik—as well as Chris Hanretty and Julian Glover—cover the fallout from the recent general election. Richards looks at how the assumptions of centrist politics were upended and how Labour managed to stun the nation—a point that Chris Hanretty explores in more detail, explaining how Corbyn turned the tide for social democracy. Sylvester questions how Theresa May managed to squander her majority—Julian Glover says it wasn’t just May’s failure, the ideas were flawed, too. Shiv Malik explores the remarkable surge in the youth vote and says parties can no longer ignore their concerns. Also in this issue: Dexter Dias argues that to understand terrorism we need to better understand human nature, Paul Wallace looks at the state of the state and asks whether the government is capable of fulfilling large scale changes to the way the state works and Sam Tanenhaus profiles Mike Pence—should we be worried about him becoming the next president?
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