John Krull column: Mike Pence, the politician who won’t stay down | Opinion

It’s always a mistake to write off Mike Pence.

People easily underestimate the former Vice President, Governor of Indiana and US Congressman. His penchant for hyperbole and his almost puppy-like desire in times of ancestry to please his base encourages people to see Pence as just an empty suit, a lack of a straight more accustomed to striking poses than blows.

This reading is fair neither to Pence nor to the truth.

While it’s true that the former VP often doesn’t handle success well, the reality is that he’s at his best in times of adversity. The man has top notch political survival skills.

Time and time again he came close to being counted out, only to get up and lean against the ropes as he cleared his head. Then he put his feet down and came out swinging again.

His first two congressional bids were disasters — worse than that, in fact. He not only lost, but made himself the object of national ridicule by taking his own campaign funds for living expenses and running mean and amateurish advertisements.

The portrait of Pence that emerged from those early runs was that of a partisan attack dog, one right on this side of rage.

But then he reinvented himself. He wrote an article in which he expressed regret for his rude conduct and promised that he would never engage in negative campaigning again.

It was a promise Pence ultimately broke, but it breathed new life into him. He built a career as a radio talk show host, in which he portrayed himself as the laid-back second-comer to Ronald Reagan.

Pence liked to say he was “conservative but not mad about it.”

When he got another shot at a congressional seat in 2000, he took it and won. Despite the occasional blunder — comparing a war zone to an Indiana farmers’ market and calling the Republican Party’s Supreme Court decision upholding 9/11 Obamacare — Pence has steadily advanced.

Some conservatives saw him as a presidential prospect in 2012.

He and those around him, however, understood that having some managerial experience would increase his chances of getting into the Oval Office. So he ran for governor instead. He won.

The problem struck again.

His tone-deaf and exceptionally clumsy handling of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act debacle turned him and the state into national jokes. As he prepared to run for re-election, smart money saw him as an almost certain loser.

But he once again escaped disaster.

When Donald Trump offered him a spot on the national GOP ticket in 2016, Pence grabbed the lifeline.

Once installed as vice president, Pence once again showed off his almost supernatural survival skills. He showed slavish loyalty to Trump in public, but always appeared to be out of the room and out of the loop when the then-president decided to test or break the law.

When Trump worked to cancel the 2020 election, Pence found the will to resist him. In the process, he began to alter, once again, the way audiences see him. He began to shed the image of being nothing more than a Trump lapdog or a charity case.

Since then, Pence has taken decisive steps to separate himself from Trump.

The former vice president told the conservative public that Trump was wrong about the 2020 election and about getting close to and coddling Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. Pence also said there was no place in the GOP for Putin apologists and that it was a mistake to try to continue to jump-start the last election rather than look to the future.

Pence’s jousting with his former boss matters.

He and Trump are vying for both the heart and the future of the Republican Party.

Can Pence win?

Conventional wisdom says no.

But Mike Pence has had his back against the wall before.

It’s still there – and still swinging.

This is why people who exclude it do so at their peril.

John Krull is director of the Pulliam School of Journalism at Franklin College and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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