Torn over voting for Donald Trump, social conservatives are singing hallelujah about vice presidential candidate Mike Pence, saying the Indiana governor has brought some much-needed balance to the Republican ticket and is helping them come to grips with the prospect of marking their ballots for the brash billionaire on Election Day.
That reservoir of good will for Mr. Pence, combined with the deep-seated disdain for Hillary Clinton, is helping inoculate Mr. Trump from concerns over whether the twice-divorced candidate can be a champion for social and religious conservatives, who have been key to winning Republican coalitions in the past.
Indeed, a number of the more than 2,000 people at the 11th annual Values Voter Summit in Washington over the weekend said Mr. Pence has assuaged some of their concerns about Mr. Trump.
“I keep telling myself, ‘I am voting for Trump,’ but then I say, ‘Am I really voting for Trump?” said Richard Tarnoviski of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Tarnoviski said Mr. Pence has made a difference.
“He is a good man who is philosophically conservative, and if something would happen with Trump, I have no problem with Pence,” he said. “And if Trump is healthy for four years, for eight years, he’s got a good man to hopefully influence and help educate him on the issues.”
During his two months on the job, Mr. Pence has mopped up Mr. Trump’s messes and sought to assure conservatives as well as Republicans on Capitol Hill that his boss is committed to their causes — and, at the very least, better than Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee.
“Let me assure you that the Trump-Pence administration will stand for the sanctity of life,” Mr. Pence told voters at the Values Voter Summit, where he received a standing ovation.
Mr. Pence said Mr. Trump will back pro-life legislation, strip funding for Planned Parenthood and strengthen the nation’s ties to Israel.
“We will stand with our allies, and if the world knows nothing else, the world will know this: America stands with Israel,” Mr. Pence said, sparking applause.
Social conservatives were hankering to hear that sort of message from Mr. Trump given his evolution on abortion and history of failed marriages. In his address the day before, Mr. Trump failed to mention Israel, abortion or same-sex marriage.
“He is everything that Donald isn’t,” Jim Chamberlin of Ohio said of Mr. Pence. “He has finesse. He is a wonderful speaker. Trump can speak, but he uses a lot of foul language. He doesn’t appeal to the evangelical Christian like Mike Pence would in any way, shape or form.
“They are totally different, but I think they can pull together, as far as strengths, learn from one another and help one another,” Mr. Chamberlin said.
During his 12 years in Congress, Mr. Pence built a reputation as a cultural warrior and bucked the Bush administration and his party leaders by opposing a Medicare prescription drug benefit and the No Child Left Behind law, arguing against the expansion of the federal government.
Sandra Seaver of Maine said she “loves” Mr. Pence and that he has had a big influence on those with concerns about Mr. Trump.
“They came behind [Trump] when he chose that man,” Mrs. Seaver said. “He represented everything I believe in: He is a Christian, he has been successful as a governor, he says the right things, he says the things I would say, and he is so calm compared to Trump.
“I mean, they are so opposite, and yet they work so well together, she said. “They balance each other.”
Mr. Trump has made overtures to conservatives by vowing to nominate Supreme Court judges who will uphold the Constitution, defend religious liberty and end a ban on churches and other tax-exempt organizations from endorsing politicians. “I figure that’s the only way I’m getting into heaven,” he joked.
Mr. Trump also has surrounded himself with high-profile figures from the religious right, including Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, which hosted the summit, and former Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, both of whom are on his Evangelical Executive Advisory Board.
Mr. Perkins said Mr. Pence “has the confidence of most conservative voters” and brings real policy chops to the campaign.
“As you noticed, Donald Trump doesn’t talk a lot about specific policies. He talks broadly because he is not a policy guy,” Mr. Perkins said.
Other Pence fans, though, said they are uncertain how much the Indiana Republican — or anybody else for that matter — can influence Mr. Trump.
“Pence is a very common-sense, genuine Christian,” said Patricia Galloway of Connecticut. “He has effectively run a state, and he respects the Constitution and the separation of powers.
“So in that sense, if he can be a good influence in office, I think that is a fine man to influence him in so much as someone can influence Donald Trump,” she said.