On Victory Night for the Trump-Pence ticket, Nov. 8, 2016, to the GOP crowd present in the arena and to millions of viewers watching at home, one element seemed strange and uncomfortable: Karen Pence determinedly declined to kiss her husband, Mike, though he had just become vice president-elect.
Until Tom Lo Bianco’s book, “Piety and Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House,” came out last month, that moment may have remained a mystery, and one lost in the hurly-burly of the past two and a half years of Donald J. Trump’s tenure as chief of state.
According to Lo Bianco, Karen Pence was angry over Trump’s accession to power with her husband in tow as second in command. The calculus that Mike and Karen Pence had made, and the reason they decided together to have him sign aboard the Trump campaign as the No. 2 guy, was that they expected Trump to lose the election to the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.
A Trump loss to Hillary, the calculation went, would have boosted the former Indiana governor into the catbird seat to win his party’s nomination to run for president in 2020.
Now, Lo Bianco writes, Karen saw her husband as shackled to an erratic and wildly unpredictable entrepreneur with zero political experience for a four-year ride. Worse still, possibly for the next eight years. Clearly, Mike Pence wasn’t going to be the candidate for 2020 if Trump was the GOP’s default prospect for re-election.
Fast forward to autumn 2019 and we see that Pence, a consummate “yes man” to Trump through the thick and thin of campaign aides going to prison and sundry scandals and controversies, is now embroiled himself in the impeachment inquiry.
Might Pence become a target of impeachment alongside his beleaguered boss?
The evidence trickling into the public consciousness of Trump’s July 25, 2019, phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tells the tale. The rough transcript of that call has Trump soliciting Zelensky’s aid in digging up dirt on a leading Democratic contender, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Such a solicitation contravenes clearly spelled-out U.S. election laws prohibiting the accepting of foreign aid for any U.S. electoral campaign for state or federal office, including president. The issue now is at the heart of the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry underway in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Confirmed reports out of Washington say that Pence, though not a listener on the call, did indeed, as did Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did, receive the transcript of the call, once the day after and again as Pence was about to embark on a September trip to Ukraine to meet with Zelensky.
Reporters are scrambling to piece together the elements of Pence’s meeting with the Ukrainian president to see whether the vice president was used by Trump as part of his scheme to illegally solicit Zelensky’s help in smearing Biden.
If Pence can be named as a conduit in the scheme, he too could face charges in the House of committing “high crimes and misdemeanors” and consequently could be the subject of articles of impeachment.
That would catapult Pence from the moral high ground of a fervent Christian believer, champion of the evangelical community, and aspirant to the presidency, into the morass of impeachment and shame.
Whether the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate would convict Trump and possibly Pence of abuse of power and criminal violation of U.S. election laws is an open question. Even if the two were acquitted by the Senate, the ignominy of impeachment and an indelible impression among the voting public of reprehensible conduct would dog the two leaders through the primaries and televised debates of spring through fall 2020.