GOP counting on V-P nominee Mike Pence to shore up support for Donald Trump

US Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence speaks at a campaign rally in Strongsville, Ohio on Nov 4, 2016.
US Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence speaks at a campaign rally in Strongsville, Ohio on Nov 4, 2016.ST PHOTO: PAUL ZACH

THE RUNNING MATES: Mike Pence could become the bridge between a President Trump and his own partymen after an election that has caused a rift within the Republican Party. Tim Kaine would be the man to help a President Clinton ford the gap with Republicans to further her agenda in Congress. The Straits Times' Paul Zach looks at the two men vying to be the next US vice-president, and how they each could help put their candidate on top on Nov 8. 

STRONGSVILLE, OHIO – With his uncoloured white hair, measured manner and presidential bearing, Mr Mike Pence is the polar opposite of the man at the top of the Republican Party ticket. 

His 31-year-long marriage to his wife, Karen, with whom he has three grown children, also contrasts with the decades of tabloid coverage of Mr Donald Trump’s three marriages and womanising. 

Mr Pence even has a veritable tagline for himself, one with which he opens campaign speeches. “I am a Christian, a conservative and a Republican,” he says, pausing, then adds with a flourish, “In that order.”

He is apparently well liked within his party, too. 

Mr Pence also has something else that his running mate does not have – experience in government. 

The Trump campaign team hopes all that will help shore up support for its presidential ticket with Republicans who dislike the man at the top of it enough to just sit out the election. After all, a vice-president takes over if something happens to the president, and Mr Pence, at 57, is much younger than the 70-year- old New York billionaire. 

As CNBC’s Mark Macias noted, Mr Pence is also more palatable to conservatives in general and evangelicals in particular. 

The ultra-conservative Breitbart website summed up his appeal best after Mr Trump tapped him: “Indiana Governor Mike Pence would bring constitutional fidelity, conservative credentials, traditional faith, foreign policy, Washington know-how and a calm, steady, Mid-western demeanour to a national ticket with Donald Trump, boosting the New York businessman with several types of voters that may prove to be the key to building an electoral coalition that could propel Trump into the White House.”

Indeed, Politico last month noted that nearly two-thirds of GOP insiders said Mr Pence would beat Mrs Hillary Clinton in their states, compared to 44 per cent who believed that Mr Trump would.

“He's calm. Reserved. He inspires confidence. He’s a conservative Christian, truthful and a gentleman,” the website reported an Iowa Republican as saying. “He’d mop the floor with her.”

Ironically, Mr Pence grew up the very definition of a future Democrat and polar opposite of the politician he has become.

One of six children born to a family of Irish Catholics in the American heartland of Columbus, Indiana, he still speaks of his admiration for Mr John F. Kennedy, a Democrat and the first Catholic elected president of the US, on the campaign trail for Mr Trump. 

His religious – and subsequent political conversion apparently – began when he was a student at Hanover University and became a born-again Christian. 

Mr Pence became an attorney after earning a law degree from the Indiana University in 1986. Two years later, he made his first run at politics, losing races to represent a district in Indiana in the US House in 1988 and 1990. A revelation that he had used political donations to pay the mortgage on his house, car payments for his wife, groceries, his personal credit card bill, and golf tournament fees soured voters on him even though it was not illegal at that time. He subsequently apologised. 

With Indiana’s politics and his own becoming increasingly conservative, he eventually won a seat in Congress in 2000, and re-election four more times. 

There he became a favourite of the ultra right-wing Tea Party movement when he became one of 28 House Republicans who formed the House Tea Party Caucus in 2010, a group that aimed to work against new taxes and government spending in an effort to keep activities of the federal government within “constitutional limits”. 

The Buzzfeed website, however, has highlighted writings by Mr Pence that are even farther right than those of some of his conservative colleagues: He has claimed smoking does not kill, called global warming a “myth”, and criticised Disney’s animated movie Mulan for suggesting that a woman could fight alongside men.

Mr Pence was elected Indiana’s governor in 2012. In 2015, he came under fire for signing a “religious freedom” law that the LGBT community said gave businesses a licence to refuse service to its members because of their religious views. The backlash included an Instagram post in which pop star Miley Cyrus called him an “a**hole” .

And as any self-respecting conservative American voter would tell you, an endorsement like that from someone the likes of Miley is all that they need to convince them to vote Republican on Nov 8.