Lackey in chief
Thanks to Mike Pence, Donald Trump is a little bit richer. According to Federal Election Commission records, Pence's PAC, the Great America Committee, has dropped nearly a quarter of a million dollars at Trump properties since 2017. And this past weekend, Pence spent even more when he stayed at Trump's golf resort in Doonbeg, Ireland, a location more than 180 outrageous miles away from Dublin where his official business took place.
This latest contribution to Trump's coffers comes from taxpayers' dollars rather than those of his political supporters, but either way Pence has made it clear he is all-too-willing to use other people's cash to continue to buy the president's favor. Maybe this is what counts as fiscal conservatism in the GOP these days.
With Pence, Trump may have never imagined how good a lackey he would get from his second in command. Trump selected Pence as his running mate in 2016 to help shore up his support among white evangelicals in the election, a move that looked particularly prudent when the "Access Hollywood" tapes revealing Trump bragging about sexual assault broke in the final weeks of the campaign. Pence reportedly considered dropping from the ticket, but it seems likely that those rumors were little more than an effort to burnish his pious reputation. When the Stormy Daniels news came to light in early 2018, Pence dutifully furrowed his brows and reprimanded the press for entertaining the "baseless allegations." The journalists asking such questions were the real perverts, Pence suggested, not the president who had conducted an affair with a porn star who he later paid off.
Aside from providing moral — or at least, political — cover to Trump's ongoing unsavory conduct, Pence's habit of excessively praising the president and his creepy tendency to look at Trump adoringly has become legendary. His continual stroking of the world's most fragile ego demonstrates Pence knows exactly what he must do to keep Trump on his side, something vital for the vice president's own political ambitions.
That may not be enough, though. Given how petty and disloyal Trump is, Pence can never be too sure about where he sits with the president. Earlier this summer, Trump refused to say whether he would endorse Pence's own presidential run in 2024, part of the routine cat-and-mouse game Trump revels in playing with those close to him but an especially bruising insult to someone who has proved so obsequious. Pence also has to be aware of the frequent speculation that he won't be chosen again for Trump's re-election campaign in 2020.
That's where Pence's lavish spending on Trump's properties comes in. Far more than providing political cover or offering constant flattery, Pence stands to gain the most with Trump by continuing to put money in the president's wallet. This is a presidency for sale, after all, and those around Trump understand both what it can buy them and the price of not playing Trump's game.
Last month, the Washington Post reported that Attorney General William Barr plans to hold his family's holiday party at the Trump International Hotel in Washington to the tune of at least $30,000. Never mind that as the nation's top law enforcement official Barr seems unconcerned about how such a decision looks. But, as the Post pointed out, Barr has been busy in court defending Trump's ongoing business dealings as president, arguing that the president benefiting from those very sorts of transactions isn't a violation of the Constitution's emoluments clause. Beyond Barr, the FEC's records show that a very long list of Republican politicians and groups have been pouring money into Trump properties. The Trump presidency may be slowly hurting the American economy, but it is all going gangbusters for the president.
That's not surprising for an administration that has been built on graft — nor for a businessman with a long history of corruption, fraud, and shady dealings — but it's also revealing about the type of vice president Mike Pence is proving to be and of the larger subjugation of the Republican Party to the interests, financial and otherwise, of Trump.
That's not to say there's no downside for Pence in helping Trump get richer. Pence received heavy flak for staying at Trump's resort in Ireland and the unnecessary cost of transporting him to his meeting in Dublin several hours away, all of it a blatant misuse of public funds. His office's attempt to smooth the controversy over took on a particularly Trumpian flavor when Pence's chief of staff first explained that Trump had "suggested" Pence stay at his resort in Doonbeg only to then later say that any stories about that were "misreporting." Obviously, Trump's predilection for calling news reports that directly quote him "fake news" has become the norm for this administration.
That just points to how corrupted Pence has become from his association with Trump. Before Pence became vice president, many hoped the former governor would provide, if not a check on Trump, at least a moderating influence. Considering Trump lacked any political experience, had no clear policy agenda, and expressed scant interest in the duties of the office, a different vice president might have seized the opportunity to bend the Trump presidency to his or her own objectives, much as Dick Cheney molded the suggestible George W. Bush to his foreign policy perspective. But for all his supposed convictions and true commitments, Pence — like the Republican Party generally — has readily sacrificed himself for the political expediency of keeping Trump happy.
Mike Pence famously likes to say he's "a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican — in that order." His vice presidency has made clear, however, that he's really just a Trumper, from start to finish.