What you need to know about Donald Trump's VP pick Mike Pence

The Indiana gov. is socially conservative, loves free trade and has some interesting thoughts on "Mulan" the film

Published October 4, 2016 6:20PM (EDT)

Mike Pence   (Getty/Mark Ralston)
Mike Pence (Getty/Mark Ralston)

This piece originally appeared on BillMoyers.com.

Most voters outside the Hoosier State know fairly little about Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a lifelong social conservative who served in Congress for 12 years, as governor for three years and is a favorite of the Koch Brothers. Since Trump tweeted out his choice, various news organizations have been reporting on Pence’s early career, his rise to national politics and where he stands on important issues — as well as his peculiar stance on the Disney animated film "Mulan."

The Mike Pence Show

As a young lawyer, Pence ran for Congress in 1988 and lost. When he ran again two years later, he used political donations to pay for his home mortgage, his personal credit card and grocery bills, golf tournament fees and his wife’s car payments, reports The Washington Post. While the payments were not illegal at the time, The Post reports “it stunned voters — and undermined Pence’s strategy to portray the incumbent, Rep. Philip R. Sharp, as tainted by donations from special-interest political action committees.” The article goes on to describe how the mistake transformed Pence politically and led to changes in national campaign finance policy.

Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn examines Pence’s early career, including his talk radio years hosting The Mike Pence Show and his political TV talk show. As a radio host, Samuelsohn writes, Pence learned “how to communicate his political ideas in pithy terms” and developed into a “Tea Party conservative before there was a Tea Party.”

In the House

Carl Hulse writes in The New York Times that in his earlier years in Washington, Pence was “out in front of the rise of the hard-right Republicans who hold such sway in the House today.” He pushed for a ban on earmarks, proposed major budget cuts and came out against deficit spending even after major disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

During his 12 years in the House, Pence introduced 90 bills and resolutions, though none became law. “His interest was more in preventing things from happening — spending, taxing, expanding liberal social policy,” reports Hulse. He fought against several of President George W. Bush’s policies, including No Child Left Behind and the extension of Medicare Part D.

Pence clashed with a number of Republican leaders before rising to the No. 3 position of Republican conference chairman. Like his future possible boss who has refused to release his income tax returns, Pence also has a secretive streak. After leaving his job in Washington, Pence chose to seal his congressional records until December 2022.

The economy

A post by the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Rothfeder — “Mike Pence’s Free Market Ideology: An Awkward Fit for Trump” — describes Pence as a “fervent anti-Keynesian” who “firmly opposes government spending on jobs programs and private-sector initiatives.” As a congressman, Pence voted against every federal stimulus package. As governor, he cut taxes for corporations and individuals. And unlike Trump, he loves free trade agreements, having voted for every one that came before him in the House, according to The Washington Post.


Pence is (surprise, surprise) a climate change denier — just like Trump. In 2015, he refused to comply with President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Indiana is one of the states challenging the plan’s legality, according to a post by Media Matters that looked at  Pence’s environmental record. The piece includes a section on how “Pence helped kill Indiana’s successful energy efficiency program” and his incredibly low lifetime rating (4 percent!) on the League of Conservation Voters’ National Environmental Scorecard.

Foreign policy

While Donald Trump now claims he never supported the war in Iraq, Pence supported it all along. On Libya, the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein writes, Pence “praised Hillary Clinton for her handling of the chaos” in the early days of civil unrest and backed the administration’s intervention. As time went on, however, Pence “soured on the mission.” Last week, Pence claimed that Clinton didn’t “send help” during the Benghazi attacks, which Politifact deemed false. (Spouting falsehoods — a commonality with Trump?) According to Salon, while speaking at CPAC in 2015, the Indiana governor said the United States should “dramatically increase” military spending, but Trump has pledged to build up a U.S. military that is “so strong,”and believes that “we can do it for a lot less.” In an interview with "60 Minutes" this past weekend Pence said he is in favor of “enhanced” interrogation techniques — just like Trump.


Newsweek’s Emily Cadei reported on Pence’s position on immigration, leading with his call a decade ago for a compromise on immigration reform. His proposed legislation envisioned a guest worker program that required undocumented immigrants to “self-deport” before returning to America legally. His plan did not offer a path to citizenship, nor did it propose a “deportation force,” which Trump has proposed. More recently, he opposed the resettlement of Syrian refugees in his state, but stepped up on Twitter and called Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim migration “offensive and unconstitutional.” He does, however, support building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border.

LGBT rights

Before Trump’s VP announcement, Pence did not have the name recognition of someone like Chris Christie, but many may remember that in 2015 he signed into law Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gay patrons based on their religious beliefs. After many businesses and others protested, Pence signed an amended version of the law that was intended to provide protection for sexual orientation and gender identity. Mother Jones’s Hannah Levintova reports on this and other anti-gay-rights bills he supported while in Congress.

Reproductive rights

Unlike the formerly pro-choice Trump, Pence, an evangelical Christian, has long been against abortion rights. This past March, Gov. Pence signed a measure “prohibiting women from obtaining an abortion because of the race, gender or disability of the fetus.” Indiana is the second state in the nation to implement such laws. While in Washington, Pence pushed for defunding Planned Parenthood and as governor slashed funding of clinics that provided STD testing, which led to an outbreak of HIV, Mother Jones reports.

"Mulan," the Disney film

BuzzFeed News dug up a number of old blog posts written by Pence in the 1990s and discovered that he found deep significance in the children’s film "Mulan," which celebrates a legendary female warrior. Pence alleged that the 1998 film was “mischievous liberal” propaganda that “will cause a quiet change in the next generation’s attitude about women in combat.” His conclusion: “Women in military, bad idea.” He doesn’t seem to be a fan of working moms either, according to The Washington Post. “Sure, you can have it all,” he wrote in a 1997 letter to the Indianapolis Star, “but your day-care kids get the short end of the emotional stick.”

BuzzFeed News has this and other Pence posts covering everything from why Paula Jones’s lawsuit against Bill Clinton should have been delayed to why otters should not have been re-introduced into Indiana (it empowers big government).

By Karin Kamp

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