It’s hard to think of a better introduction to Pence than his debut speech on the national stage. He was pure Midwestern nice. He wanted everyone in the room to think he could be their dad. He was almost un-veep-like, which is to say that he was presidential, going as far as calling Donald Trump his running mate. Pence even seemed to be doing a Ronald Reagan impression—perhaps the teleprompter was too far away, but he kept squinting and cocking his head in a distinctly Gipper-like fashion.
Pence did a good job normalizing himself. Despite the hard right-wing record which will track him throughout the election cycle, he set himself up as a member of his generation, a fan of MLK and JFK, and an “aw shucks” kind of guy whose family and his faith are the most important aspects of his character. Pence self-identified, in Cruz-like fashion, “as a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican,” in that order.
Pence did his best to create a kind of middle ground between his religiously oriented conservatism and Trump’s nativism and populism. There were still some deviations—Pence, a staunch Iraq War supporter, said we shouldn’t “apologize to our enemies and abandon our friends,” which doesn’t quite square with Trump’s anti-NATO position. But Pence mostly seemed, at least from a distance, to be a perfect complement to Trump: understated, conventional (at least by GOP standards), and in control. Pence, for instance, had the crowd in the palm of his hand for his entire speech and was able to stifle the occasional “Lock her up” chant without really bothering anyone.
Pence’s record paints a more divisive picture, but he seemed like Trump’s ideal running mate on Wednesday night—until, that is, he finally had to stand next to him.