- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 17, 2016

CLEVELAND — Mike Pence’s rise to conservative stardom began with defeats.

In 2003, as a second-term Republican in Congress, Mr. Pence bucked his party chiefs and voted against the new Medicare prescription drug benefit entitlement that President George W. Bush was insisting on — one of just 25 Republicans to break with the White House. Two years earlier, he was one of the Republican mavericks who bucked Mr. Bush and voted against his No Child Left Behind education bill, objecting to the expanded role of the federal government.

In those defeats, though, were sown not just the Indiana Republican’s rise to stardom, but also the seeds of the rebellion that would bloom nearly a decade later as the tea party revolution.

“He is a principled Reagan conservative, and he’s not been shy over the years to push back against his own party when he felt that in the case,” said Gary Bauer, a former presidential candidate and chairman of Campaign for Working Families. “The idea that he’s low-key and not much of a fighter, I just think that’s totally missing the real bio of Mike Pence.”

In picking Mr. Pence to round out the Republican ticket, presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump has delighted conservatives who were demoralized by their party’s divisive primaries.

If Mr. Trump’s own candidacy hasn’t done so, picking Mr. Pence is the final nail in the Bush era within the Republican Party. Indeed, as he appeared with Mr. Trump for the first time as a candidate on Friday, Mr. Pence highlighted his fights with Mr. Bush.

“From almost my first day in Congress, I found myself battling the big spenders in both political parties, whether opposing No Child Left Behind, the prescription entitlement or the Wall Street bailout. I fought every single day for taxpayers and fiscal responsibility,” he said.

Mr. Trump said he picked Mr. Pence to help unify the Republican Party and to highlight differences with likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

“Mike Pence is a man of honor, character and honesty,” he said. “Hillary Clinton is the embodiment of corruption. She’s a corrupt person.”

Mr. Pence made the jump from conservative talk radio to Congress in 2001 after a failed bid two years earlier.

He quickly earned a reputation for being accessible to reporters. Some fellow members thought he was too eager, but staffers defended him, saying the conservative movement needed someone who was willing to take their message to the mainstream media.

Powered by his strong stance against the 2001 education law and the 2003 entitlement expansion, Mr. Pence became chairman in 2005 of the Republican Study Committee, which was the conservative caucus in the House.

From that helm, he pursued a battle over runaway spending, offering alternative budgets that cut faster and deeper than others in the party wanted. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Mr. Pence launched Operation Offset, arguing that the government was bloated enough that the tens of billions of dollars in relief money for the Gulf Coast should come from cuts elsewhere.

“Everybody was jumping off a cliff to vote for a spending bill. He didn’t want to say no; he wanted to provide for those people, but in a fiscally responsible way,” said one former staffer who asked not to be named.

The staffer said Mr. Pence wouldn’t shy from fights. He often would race to the floor for a vote, eager to get there early and make his position known, hoping to sway other conservatives pondering which way to vote.

Mr. Pence has a few marks against his conservative record. As governor, he signed a bill that supporters said would protect religious freedom, but which gay rights advocates insisted was meant to allow businesses to refuse service to customers based on their sexual orientation. After a massive outcry from businesses supporting gay rights, Mr. Pence signed another bill specifically saying that no business could refuse service based on sexual orientation.

The compromise pleased few: Gay rights advocates said the original law should have been repealed outright, and religious conservatives said Mr. Pence caved and gutted the legislation they wanted.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, gave Mr. Trump credit for trying to reach out to conservatives by picking Mr. Pence, but said concerns over the religious freedom law linger.

“Had Mike had the courage to stand up for religious liberty last year when big business came against Indiana’s Religious Liberty Restoration Act, he would have been an ideal choice to carry the conservative banner,” Mr. Perkins said. “Hopefully, the courage that Donald Trump has shown in standing up against political correctness will rub off on Mike.”

The religious freedom fight was reminiscent of another rough patch for Mr. Pence.

In 2006, he proposed a plan that called for illegal immigrants to be granted a speedy pathway to legal status with the requirement that they return to their home countries to pick up passes to re-enter the U.S. Mr. Pence said his goal was to try to offer a middle ground that could earn the support of House Republicans.

Mr. Bush, eager to get Republicans on board with his own immigration plans, held a high-profile meeting with Mr. Pence. Conservatives were less excited, saying Mr. Pence’s plan was still an amnesty.

Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who battled Mr. Pence over his plan at the time, said that is all in the past. He said others — including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in 2013 — thought they could broker compromises on immigration, only to be burned.

“I think Mike learned a lot from that,” Mr. King said. “I know his heart and his head. He has a terrific heart, and he’s got a very good head.”

Mr. King and Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and author of some of the strictest immigration bills in Congress, said Mr. Trump’s stances on border control will triumph.

“I think Mike Pence will be a loyal vice president and support Mr. Trump’s views on immigration,” Mr. Smith said, adding that Mr. Trump made a good choice. Mr. Pence is “known as a man of principle and a man of conviction. He’s known for his decency.”

How Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence cooperate remains to be seen.

At their first appearance Friday, Mr. Pence’s name didn’t even appear on the sign on the lectern where the two men spoke, and Mr. Trump repeatedly veered away from talking about his vice presidential pick to talk about other issues.

The two men have some deep disagreements. Mr. Pence voted for the Iraq War, and during his time in Congress he kept with him a list of Indianans killed in the war on terrorism. Mr. Trump, meanwhile, has called the war a mistake.

“He’s entitled to make a mistake every once in a while,” Mr. Trump told CBS’ “60 Minutes” program in an interview aired Sunday.

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