Mike Pence has long described himself as a “Christian, a conservative and a Republican in that order.” Now, the GOP vice presidential nominee and his priorities are facing a critical test as Donald Trump, staggered by his recorded vulgarities about women, careens toward Sunday’s presidential debate against Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump has vowed to stay in the race.
Pence’s advocacy for Trump came to a screeching, perhaps temporary, halt Saturday in the hours after Trump released a video apologizing for 2005 remarks in which he describes his aggressive conduct toward women. Pence said in a statement about Trump that he won’t “condone his remarks and cannot defend them.”
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Here is my statement. <a href=”http://t.co/WAZiGoQqMQ”>pic.twitter.com/WAZiGoQqMQ</a></p>— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href=”http://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/784609194234306560″>October 8, 2016</a></blockquote>
“We pray for his family and look forward to the opportunity he has to show what is in his heart when he goes before the nation tomorrow night,” the Indiana governor said.
It’s more evidence of the trial by fire for the GOP’s No. 2, and the challenge may serve Pence well if he runs for the top spot in 2020. Pence dare not speak about that possibility. To do so would assume Clinton prevails on November 8. But plenty of people are engaging in presidential talk about Pence, including Republican member of Congress, former presidential candidates and more.
Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Mike Crapo of Idaho are calling on Trump to quit the campaign so Pence can lead the ticket. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire says she’ll write in Pence’s name on the ballot not Trump’s.
Pence canceled his appearance at a Wisconsin rally Saturday with House Speaker Paul Ryan. Pence would have been expected to advocate for Trump. “I’m sure he’s horrified,” said Mike Murphy, an Indiana public relations strategist who’s known Pence for more than two decades. “We impeached Bill Clinton and we cannot impeach Trump off the ballot. But I wish there was a mechanism to do so.”
Pence raised his political stock Monday night during the only debate against Democrat Tim Kaine. During the 90-minute event, Pence managed to not defend Trump’s indefensible behavior, yet still sound supportive and show off his own expertise on foreign policy.
The performance highlighted the gulf in political sophistication between Trump and his running mate. Pence addressed the awkwardness with a savvy statement acknowledging his own performance and preserving his alliance with Trump.