V-P choice Mike Pence comes with his share of controversy

Mr Pence with his wife, Karen, after being named Mr Trump's running mate.
Mr Pence with his wife, Karen, after being named Mr Trump's running mate.PHOTO: REUTERS

Indiana governor Mike Pence may have been picked as the vice-presidential nominee to temper Mr Donald Trump's bombast, but the 57- year-old is almost as controversial as the New York real estate mogul.

Even as many establishment Republicans were singing praises of the man chosen as Mr Trump's running mate, critics were reviving stories about a controversy that effectively ended Mr Pence's own nascent presidential ambitions.

That was in March last year, when he signed a religious freedom law that critics feared would permit discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community on religious grounds.

The outrage was swift and intense. Businesses threatened to leave the state, organisers cancelled major events and protesters took to the streets.

But it was not necessarily the perceived anti-gay laws that caused Mr Pence's stock to fall within his own party; it was his uncertain handling of it. He tried and failed to walk a middle line on the law, at once defending it and also calling for it to be "clarified".

He later rolled back some of the Bill's more controversial elements.

The saga did not just anger Democrats. Republicans, too, fumed that he had wilted in the heat.

Fast-forward a year and that episode is being brought up by some conservatives to question if Mr Pence is tough enough for Mr Trump. After all, Mr Pence has also been uncertain in his handling of Mr Trump, having at different times distanced himself and embraced the businessman.

The governor endorsed Mr Trump's rival, Mr Ted Cruz, during the Republican primary and has publicly opposed proposals like the temporary ban on Muslims.

Yet, he also praised Mr Trump, saying he was grateful to the business mogul for taking a strong stand on jobs when manufacturer Carrier said it would shutter its Indianapolis plant and move to Mexico.

Still, Mr Pence is widely seen as one of Mr Trump's best available options, given his experience in Congress and the fact that he is well liked by his establishment peers.

Before becoming governor, he was a member of the House of Representatives for 12 years, and for two years served as the chair of the House Republican Conference - making him the third-highest ranking person in the party.

His soft-spoken and serious demeanour has also been highlighted as a important counterpoint to Mr Trump. The devout Catholic is also known for denouncing negative campaigning.

Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan enthusiastically approved the choice.

"Mike and I served in Congress 12 years together, so we were allies on just about everything," Mr Ryan said in a radio interview.

Senator Marco Rubio said Mr Pence was "rock solid" and a "great pick", while Senator Bob Corker - who was on the shortlist for V-P - said he was happy for Mr Pence and "happy for the ticket".

Interestingly enough, Mr Pence does have liberal roots.

In 2012, he told the Indianapolis Star that former president John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, and Martin Luther King Jr had inspired him to enter politics.

The lawyer by training switched to the Republican Party after listening to Mr Ronald Reagan.

•Additional reporting by Melissa Sim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 17, 2016, with the headline 'V-P choice comes with his share of controversy'. Print Edition | Subscribe