- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2017

It’s not that Mike Pence is surprised that Donald Trump won the election — it’s that he’s surprised he was along for the ride.

“Someone asked me awhile ago: did you ever imagine you’d find yourself in this position 10 years ago?” he said this week. “I said, I didn’t imagine myself in this position 10 months ago.”

A decade ago, Mr. Pence was the happy voice of fierce conservatism on Capitol Hill, serving as a foil to President George W. Bush when the Republican in the White House tried to deepen deficits or expand government entitlement programs.

Now, Mr. Pence finds himself moving into the Naval Observatory residence as vice president, with a powerful role as consigliere and explainer for Mr. Trump.

Analysts said the Republican Party couldn’t have lucked into a better person for the job.

“I think it’s perhaps even providential that Mike Pence, who spent quite a bit of time in the House fighting against entrenched interests, trying to catalyze an otherwise immobile and unresponsive government, is now pairing himself with someone who … needs a partner, who understands how to effect change and who can work with the people who spent some time in government,” said Sen. Todd Young, an Indiana Republican who served alongside Mr. Pence in the House in 2011 and 2012.

Mr. Pence was an “unbelievably safe” pick for the Trump campaign in that he rarely strays off message — a skill honed in his days as a talk radio host, said Andrew Downs, a politics professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

“Balancing the ticket this year did not mean geographic balance or even really, in some respects, ideological balance. It almost meant temperament balance this time,” Mr. Downs said.

Mr. Pence spent the past four years as governor of Indiana, where he oversaw a state consistently ranked as among the most business-friendly in the country.

He did manage to upset both sides of the religious liberty debate in 2015, when he signed legislation that supporters said was meant to protect religious freedom but opponents said allowed businesses in the state to discriminate by declining to provide services to people based on their sexual orientation.

He later approved a rewrite of the legislation in a move that social conservatives criticized.

But Mr. Pence can always be counted on to do what he believes to be the right thing, said state Rep. Randy Frye.

“He’s probably the finest man I’ve ever known — not just in politics,” Mr. Frye said.

Before he was tapped as Mr. Trump’s running mate last year, Mr. Pence helped Mr. Frye’s 11-year-old grandson, Silas, with a homework assignment in which he had to write about a Hoosier he admired.

“No matter how busy he is, he has time for people, and that’s a real skill, I believe, in this day and age, and I’ve always appreciated that about him,” Mr. Frye said.

Ahead of a stint as a conservative talk radio host in Indiana — he has described himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf” — Mr. Pence launched unsuccessful bids for Congress in 1988 and 1990.

The 1990 run included a TV ad featuring an actor dressed as an Arab sheikh thanking then-Rep. David Sharp, Mr. Pence’s opponent, for his approach on foreign oil.

After those two unsuccessful tries, Mr. Pence swore off going negative.

“It is wrong, quite simply, to squander a candidate’s priceless moment in history, a moment in which he or she could have brought critical issues before the citizenry, on partisan bickering,” he wrote in an essay, “Confessions of a Negative Campaigner,” published in 1991 in the Indiana Policy Review.

He would take another shot at the House in 2000, winning with 51 percent of the vote, and he quickly gained a reputation as a conservative fighter who was also willing to take his message to a media that others on the right wrote off as biased.

In 2001, Mr. Pence was among a small number of Republicans to vote against Mr. Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative. Two years later, he again was one of about two dozen maverick Republicans to vote against the president’s desired Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Mr. Pence also helped lead the ultimately unsuccessful Operation Offset in 2005 to try to argue that funds directed toward Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts could be found through cutting an already-bloated government.

“If there were a viable political party that was more conservative, he’d probably be a member of that,” Mr. Downs said.

In 2005, Mr. Pence also became chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative House Republicans that offered alternate budget plans featuring aggressive spending cuts and steadily gained in size and influence as the power of the tea party grew in 2009 and 2010.

In substance, if not in style, Mr. Pence’s agenda “was aligned with what became the tea party,” said David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth and a former congressman from Indiana.

“The minute [Mr. Trump] picked Mike Pence, there were people like me who said I have reservations, but Pence shows he’s going to have conservatives around him, and we’re for that,” said Mr. McIntosh, who recruited Mr. Pence to run for his seat in 2000 when he launched his own gubernatorial bid.

Mr. Pence was elected as chairman of the House Republican Conference in 2009 before stepping away for his successful 2012 run for governor.

As the No. 3-ranking Republican in the House, Mr. Pence managed to offer somewhat of a bridge between leadership and House conservatives, said Mr. McIntosh — a balancing role that Mr. Pence could soon play for Mr. Trump as the administration tries to navigate the legislative process.

Mr. Pence has frequented Capitol Hill since the election, meeting with members of both parties as he headed up the presidential transition process.

“If I were advising Donald Trump, I would tell him to use Mike Pence to work his agenda through the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, because Mike Pence knows how it works,” said Indiana state Sen. Jean Leising. “He knows the difficult time you can encounter, even with people in your own party.”

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