The Shadow President: The Truth about Mike Pence

The Shadow President: The Truth about Mike Pence

by Michael D'Antonio, Peter Eisner


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"It presents an entirely damning portrait of Pence. You've seen his colors before, but not so vividly and in this detail." —Frank Bruni, The New York Times

"Producing a biography of a living, controversial politician is always difficult. D'Antonio and Eisner have succeeded in this well-documented, damning book. Cue the outrage from Sean Hannity et al." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

In this well-rounded, deeply-investigated biography, the first full look at the vice president, two award-winning journalists unmask the real Mike Pence.

Little-known outside his home state until Donald Trump made him his running mate, Mike Pence—who proclaims himself a Christian first, a conservative second, and a Republican third—has long worn a carefully-constructed mask of Midwestern nice. Behind his self-proclaimed humility and self-abasing deference, however, hides a man whose own presidential ambitions have blazed since high school. Pence’s drive for power, perhaps inspired by his belief that God might have big plans for him, explains why he shocked his allies by lending Christian credibility to a scandal-plagued candidate like Trump.

In this landmark biography, Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael D’Antonio and Emmy-nominated journalist Peter Eisner follow the path Pence followed from Catholic Democrat to conservative evangelical Republican. They reveal how he used his time as rightwing radio star to build connections with powerful donors; how he was a lackluster lawmaker in Congress but a prodigious fundraiser from the GOP’s billionaire benefactors; and how, once he locked in his views on the issues—anti-gay, pro-gun, anti-abortion, pro big-business—he became laser-focused on his own pursuit of power.

As THE SHADOW PRESIDENT reveals, Mike Pence is the most important and powerful Christian Right politician America has ever seen. Driven as much by theology as personal ambition, Pence is now positioned to seize the big prize—the presidency—and use it to fashion a nation more pleasing to his god and corporate sponsors.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250301192
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/28/2018
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 330,496
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Michael D’Antonio is the author of numerous books, including the acclaimed The Truth About Trump, which The New York Times Book Review praised as an “admirably straightforward, evenhanded but nonetheless damning account of Trump’s life.” He is a writer and on-air CNN contributor who specializes in national politics and currently writes for, the Boston Globe, and the Los Angeles Times. His books have been noted as “best of the year” or “editors' picks” by The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Businessweek and others. Prior to becoming a full time writer he was a reporter for Newsday, where he was a member of a Pulitzer Prize winning team and covered politics, religion. His feature articles have been published by Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and Discover among others. He lives in New York.

Peter Eisner has won national and international awards for his writing and investigative reporting as a foreign correspondent, editor and reporter atThe Washington Post, Newsday, and the Associated Press. His 2004 book The Freedom Line, which won the Christopher Award, is the story of young resistance workers who rescued Allied fighter pilots during World War II. Eisner was nominated for an Emmy in 2010 as a producer at PBS World Focus. He is based in Washington, D.C.

Read an Excerpt



Behold, I tell you a mystery.

— 1 Corinthians 15:51

As noon approached on January 20, 2017, Associate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas summoned Michael Richard Pence before him at the lectern on the West Front of the United States Capitol. Surrounding the two men were politicians, public officials, family, and assorted dignitaries arrayed to form a tableau of democratic tradition. Allies and adversaries, their conflicts and contests set aside for the moment, bore witness to the transition of power.

Pence had chosen one of the most conservative Supreme Court justices in U.S. history to administer his oath of office as vice president of the United States. The symbolism was complete when Thomas directed Pence to place his left hand on Ronald Reagan's Bible, which was held by Pence's wife, Karen. Reagan had been Pence's midwestern hero and role model, even before he had met him briefly twenty-eight years earlier.

"Mr. Vice President elect, would you raise your right hand," said Thomas, though Pence had already done so. The justice grimaced slightly. Known for rarely speaking from the bench or in public at all, Thomas appeared ill at ease. After a pause, he summoned a resonant baritone voice and said, "Repeat after me." The vice president elect did as instructed, swearing that he would "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. ... So help me God."

After he finished the oath, the vice president embraced his family, shook hands with some of the assembled luminaries, and then retreated from the center of attention. As he stood beside his wife, Pence struck his humility pose — brow furrowed, mouth downturned, eyes focused on some distant point — as he had on countless public occasions.

For decades, Pence had presented himself as a humble servant who could be entrusted with power because he was, at heart, a mild-mannered midwesterner. Friends and foes alike said his major character trait was extreme niceness. When given the opportunity, Pence described himself as a true "Hoosier" son of Indiana who was "a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican in that order." This is how he had introduced himself to the country at the Republican National Convention six months earlier. The list contrasted with the usual pledge politicians make to put country first. This is what President Obama did after the 2016 election when he said, "We are not Democrats first. We are not Republicans first. We are Americans first."

The vice president's self-declared identity revealed both his priorities and the source of his power. For thirty years he had helped lead the Republican Party into a closer alliance with preachers who were turning evangelical Christianity from a religion into a political crusade that engaged in a culture war against nonbelievers. The aim of many was to destroy abortion rights, roll back the equality gained by gay citizens, and prepare the nation for the Second Coming of Christ.

Pence and others used martial metaphors and considered themselves warriors of the Christian Right, both besieged and called upon to fight. "Those who would have us ignore the battle being fought over life, marriage and religious liberty have forgotten the lessons of history," said Pence in 2010. "America's darkest moments have come when economic arguments trumped moral principles."

Pence's allies in his war included hugely wealthy donors who, despite their vast wealth, accumulated at a time of historic inequality, also posed as victims. As libertarians in the mold of Ayn Rand's cardboard characters they felt inhibited in the pursuit of even greater riches by a government that imposed foolish regulations and would redistribute their wealth to the supposedly indolent poor. Starting with this perspective they denied the science behind environmental protection, demanded tax cuts for themselves, and insisted on massive reductions in programs serving anyone who wasn't rich.

The victimhood claimed by both the libertarians and the Christian Right permitted the construction of an alternate reality that denied their own power and masked their ambition to make politics and culture conform to an ideology that included white Christian supremacy and predatory capitalism. It also denied the progress they had made in their construction of their own political might. With his oath of office Vice President Pence became both the free-marketeers' hero and the most successful Christian supremacist in American history.

Most of Pence's life had been preparation for this moment, and possibly one more. His lifelong goal, set when he was a boy, was the Oval Office itself. Remarkably, he had reached this point by tying his fate to Donald J. Trump, a man whose immorality in the form of lying, cheating, and deceiving in every aspect of his life, from his marriage to his businesses, had made him a living exemplar of everything that Christianity and conservatism abhorred. However, this record also suggested that Pence was more likely to assume the highest office in the land than most vice presidents who had come before. To put it bluntly, Trump was vulnerable to impeachment. If this occurred, Pence would see the hand of God at work in his elevation to the presidency. In the meantime, he would wait, and watch.

On Inauguration Day, with Pence looking on, a slightly stooped Donald Trump stepped forward when it was his turn to face the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, John Roberts. Beside Trump stood his wife, Melania, the former fashion model, who held two Bibles — Lincoln's and Trump's own. At the stroke of noon, the president-elect raised his right hand and placed his left on the Bibles. As he did this, Trump's family members and hundreds of political and government figures strained to view the moment.

Trump and Pence were a study in contrasts. At age fifty-eight, Pence appeared trim, perhaps even athletic, and could have passed for a man ten years younger. His jacket was neatly buttoned. His hands were clasped at his waist, and his smooth face was set in a half smile. In sum, he resembled a small-town pastor or even a funeral director. Mere feet away, a stern-faced, seventy-year-old Trump stood with his coat hanging open, like a kaftan, to reveal a long red necktie. Despite much cosmetic intervention, he looked old and tired.

At the conclusion of the presidential oath, which had been voiced by forty-four presidents before him, Trump said the words "so help me God" and accepted the congratulations of those closest to him with a thin-lipped, toothless grin. He then delivered a fifteen-minute speech replete with the distortions and falsehoods that were his hallmark. He declared that America was awash with crime and despair and under constant attack. "This American carnage stops right here and stops right now," said Trump. It was the most remembered phrase of the address.

"That was some weird shit," former president George W. Bush was heard to remark as he left the inaugural stand.

Weird was the mildest word one could attach to the forty-fifth president of the United States as he launched an administration that would be stained by scandal and corruption so broad it defied a citizen's effort to grasp. Cronyism, secrecy, and nepotism would flourish. Presidential lies, duly catalogued by The Washington Post and others, would come at the rate of more than 150 per month.

From the moment of his oath, Mike Pence, the vice president, faced the historic — some would say daunting — challenge of dealing with an erratic and undisciplined commander in chief. From the start, he would seek to be a stabilizing force in a government rocked by presidential whims and mood swings. Pence intended to do this while preserving his own image as a man of calm judgment and rectitude who would be ready to take over as commander in chief should Trump ever leave office.

Fourteen previous vice presidents had risen to the top office. In eight cases, a sitting president died in office. Five vice presidents were elected to the higher office after serving as number two. One, Gerald Ford, took office when Richard Nixon resigned to end the Watergate crisis. Given the strange reality of the Trump presidency, no one could put odds on the chance of a Pence presidency. However, among those who knew Pence, the refrain was "Mike will be ready."

To be ready to succeed the chief executive is a vice president's main duty and one of just three prescribed by the Constitution. The others include presiding over and breaking tie votes in the United State Senate and conducting the quadrennial meetings of the electoral college. Otherwise, vice presidents serve by handling duties assigned to them by the president and sometimes develop their own areas of interest that they pursue with the president's blessing. Al Gore was concerned with technology and environmental policy. Dick Cheney was deeply engaged in national security. The portfolio taken up by Pence would be more wide ranging and include functioning as a kind of minder for a notoriously undisciplined commander in chief.

Throughout his first year at Trump's side, Pence would be a constant, attentive presence who generally spoke only when the president requested it. For weeks at a time, he seemed to have just one major public assignment: admiring Donald Trump. He performed this duty consistently despite the fact that the bellicose and chaotic Trump — he of the infamous "grab 'em by the pussy" videotape — was so personally objectionable that Pence had considered trying to replace him at the top of the ticket as the 2016 election neared. (A Pence aide denied that he had considered doing that.)

Inside the administration, amid the turmoil caused by a record number of dismissals and resignations, Pence proved to be as unflappable as a monument. Like a regent charged with humoring a temperamental boy king, Pence conducted himself in a way that he clearly felt was necessary to maintain the president's trust and preserve his own status. This was a difficult task as the scandal of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, which was being investigated by Congress and special counsel Robert Mueller, grew ever larger and raised obvious questions. What did Pence himself know of the Russian scandal and all the efforts made by the president to stop the investigations? Was he one of Mueller's targets? Could Pence survive scrutiny if a scandal or crime forced Trump out? Within weeks of Mueller's appointment, Pence hired a criminal defense lawyer to represent him in the probe.

As the year passed and Trump bellowed and brayed, Pence told Republican Party leaders, everyday Americans, and allies abroad that all was well. At the same time, he massaged Trump's ego in a way that was so undignified that it was at once comic and sad. This self-abasement reached a low point on December 20, 2017, when the president invited TV cameras to record the start of a cabinet meeting. The setting was the White House Cabinet Room, where the president's department heads and top advisors gathered around a huge table. The light pouring through the crystalline windows evoked a church in the countryside. After remarking on his own successes and how little credit he had received for them, President Trump sat back in his chair, folded his arms across his chest, and stared at the members of his cabinet like a less-eloquent Lear. Ben Carson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said a prayer that expressed his gratitude "for a president and for cabinet members who are courageous, who are willing to face the winds of controversy in order to provide a better future for those who come behind us."

When Carson finished, Trump looked across the table at Pence, unfolded his arms, and said, "Mike, would you like to say a few words?"

Pence offered about three minutes of impromptu praise in which The Washington Post discovered one expression of gratitude or admiration every twelve seconds. Among them were:

"I'm deeply humbled, as your vice president, to be able to be here."

"You've restored American credibility on the world stage."

"You've unleashed American energy."

"You've spurred an optimism in this country that's setting records."

When Pence concluded his praise, President Trump offered up a verbal pat on the head, saying, "Thank you, Mike. That's very nice. I appreciate that."

Pence replied, "Thank you, Mr. President, and God bless you."

The vice president's cringeworthy display, broadcast live on television, prompted an avalanche of mockery. The nonpolitical website used Pence's remarks in a tweet to illustrate the definition of the word sycophant. Late-night TV talk-show host Seth Meyers imagined Pence as a lovesick suitor and Trump telling him, "Dude, I'm married." Conservative pundit Matt Lewis confessed his utter revulsion at Pence's offensive "slavish hero worship." As he puzzled out the vice president's motivation, Lewis considered two possible explanations for Pence's behavior. The first assumed he was so eager to ascend to the presidency that he was willing to humiliate himself to get ahead. According to the other option Lewis contemplated, Pence was so committed to public service, and thus to soothing the dangerously mercurial — some would say unstable — Trump that he considered self-abnegation a patriotic act. Lewis wrote:

Could it be that praising Trump is but a small price to pay for keeping the president on the straight and narrow? Perhaps Pence is making the ultimate sacrifice (his dignity!) in order to keep Trump's agenda from veering into the fever swamps of nationalism. James Carville and Paul Begala once observed that "you never stand so tall as when you stoop to kiss an ass." If that's the case, then Mike Pence is a giant among men.

Lewis's analysis overlooked a significant signal in the final phrase — "and God bless you" — offered by the vice president when he spoke at the cabinet meeting. Easy to regard as a kind of rhetorical tic, like the "God bless America" that presidents tack on to the end of formal addresses, Pence's call to the deity reminded conservative Christians that their champion was alert to his duty. In fact, as one of Pence's closest aides would explain, the vice president actually believed he could bring Trump to Jesus and, like Jesus, he was willing to do whatever was necessary to help save Trump's soul.

Pence was also calling attention to his own piety, which his supporters valued above all his other qualities. Long disappointed by Republicans who appeared to share their faith but failed to create the society they desired, many Christian Right voters had supported Trump — the most profane candidate in modern times — because of Mike Pence. Like them, the vice president imagined America's conservative Christians to be the modern equivalent of ancient Jews exiled to a wilderness that just happened to look like a comfortable, modern society. This is why Pence said, "No people of faith today face greater hostility or hatred than followers of Christ," he said in 2017.

Pence's hope for the future resided in his faith that, as chosen people, conservative evangelicals would eventually be served by a leader whom God would enable to defeat their enemies and create a Christian nation. Devoted to the dream of a nation guided by Christian Right beliefs, his preternaturally serene presence reminded the devout that Trump was the instrument of God and that they — the Jews of this era — were closer to their goal than ever before. This pursuit would be aided by a host of allies, including Trump's election guru, Stephen Bannon, who would use Facebook and other social media as weapons in a "culture war."

Backed by reclusive billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer and their firm, Cambridge Analytica (CA), Bannon would disseminate vast amounts of false information intended to motivate conservative Christian voters and discourage their opponents. The ultimate aim of this information warfare (as described by former CA employee Christopher Wylie) was the election of Trump and Pence, who would then roll back the rights of women and gays while empowering religious conservatives and businesses. In the world at large, Trump and Pence were expected to disengage America from broad agreements on trade, environmental protection, and security.

Key to his election, more than 80 percent of evangelical Christians had voted for Trump. This support perplexed those who considered his lifelong record of sex scandals, bankruptcies, and public displays of cruelty, who wondered how this group could stand with him. The question confounded those who assumed that politically active conservative evangelicals applied conventional morality in a consistent way. In fact, their kind of Christianity placed a higher value on the professions of faith and relied on supernatural assumptions to justify political expediency. Descendants of Luther and Calvin, their emphasis on statements of belief over evidence of personal conduct (with faith, all is forgiven) made it possible to overlook the president's massive and widely publicized record of immorality. At the same time, they yearned for protection, as they lived in what they considered to be the wilderness of national affairs.


Excerpted from "The Shadow President"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Michael D'Antonio and Peter Eisne.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

1 The Sycophant 1

2 Model Citizen 20

3 Mudslinger 42

4 Limbaugh Light 65

5 Guns, God, and Money 82

6 The Frozen Man 101

7 Higher Ambitions 124

8 Head Hoosier 137

9 When Trump Calls 169

10 Russians, What Russians? 188

11 Shadow President 221

12 Good Cop/Crazy Cop 236

13 Not So Humbled 251

Epilogue: The Man Who Would Be President 258

Notes 271

Index 295

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