Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House
A Review by Dwight A. Moody
Either this book is boring or Mike Pence is, one or the other; and because I read this book straight through in two days, I’m going with Pence.
Not only is Pence boring, he is conniving—that is the picture Tom LoBianco paints of the man who is now the Vice President of the United States. At the end of this 300-page book, LoBianco quotes a minister who guided Pence in his early days as a U. S. Representative from Indiana: “In the deal with Trump, I felt like I was watching Mike sell his soul on the global stage….”
What he means, of course, is that Pence the devout Evangelical Christian from the heartland of the nation, compromised his most public values to get what he wanted—one step closer to the White House.
That is the way this book begins, with a peak into a possible future with Pence as the President, having been elected to succeed Donald J. Trump after his eight turbulent years in office. Who knows if that will happen, but LoBianco is sure that Pence even now is carefully adjusting once again his positions on so many things in order to make that next step plausible.
The most telling episode recounted in this fifty-year narrative is what happened between Mike Pence and his strong-willed wife Karen on the night that Hillary Clinton called Donald Trump to concede. Mike wanted a celebratory kiss from his long-suffering wife. She rebuffed him and said, “You got what you wanted, Mike. Leave me alone” (page 273).
Her words highlight the ambition to power that evidently had propelled Pence throughout college and career: first, to the state house, then Congress, then back to Indiana for the governorship, finally to the Republican ticket for the leadership of the nation. These twists and turns, as described by LoBianco, were navigated by carefully managing his personal personae, his public statements, his policy judgments, and his religious practices—embracing here, shedding there in accordance with the political demands of the day.
On the religious front (which so interests me), LoBianco traces his journey from Irish Catholic roots and affiliations, through a Presbyterian college, to an Evangelical conversion (at the famed Ichthus music festivals in Asbury, Kentucky) into the mainstream of Evangelical religion in America. Then Pence fell all the way into the fervent, fundamentalist wing of that movement, embracing, first, its irrational conviction about the End of the World and, second, it’s inexplicable affection for the counter-christ: Donald J. Trump: “Endure the indignities, the insanity, and the godly will have their hands on the reins of government” (297).
The godly part is probably secondary; the primary piece of this most-unlikely scenario is that Pence will have his hands on the reins of government.
What this means to the pre-Trump version of Pence is no abortion or homosexuality, low taxes and little government, and strong military, especially along side Israel.
Pence comes off as a pious man easily manipulated by those with money and power, a political man paralyzed at critical times by uncertainty and silence, a successful man suffering through financial indignities and professional failures, a complacent man, smiling, nodding, and doing what needs to be done to survive and advance.
The book is good, but its main character not so much: on the outside, perhaps, and as he is walking in and out of the White House. But we are left to wonder what he traded for these privileges; and if this trade-off will take him to where he really wants to go, standing before a chief justice of the Supreme Court taking the oath of offices as the 46th President of the United States.
I hope there is a sequel to this volume about Mike Pence. If so, I will read it and write another report.