Long after government regulators had confirmed the lethal consequences of cigarette smoking, Mike Pence mocked their warnings as “hysteria” in 1998.
“Time for a quick reality check,” he wrote. “Smoking doesn’t kill.”
Long after most members of Congress had abandoned the quaint practice of delivering one-minute morning speeches, Mr. Pence eagerly held court in an empty chamber, musing about sports and Scripture.
And long after Republicans’ war on big government was fading, Mr. Pence defiantly opposed his own party over the creation of signature programs like No Child Left Behind and a Medicare prescription drug benefit.
OUT OF STEP
Throughout his career as a congressman, radio host and governor, Gov. Michael Richard Pence of Indiana, Donald J. Trump’s running mate, has been deeply and proudly out of sync with his times.
SEEN BY OTHERS
This has earned Mr. Pence, 57, both the admiration of Republican voters who identify with his homespun manner and the frustration of outsiders who see him as a dangerous archaism.
In interviews, Mr. Pence describes himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”
AGAINST GAYS 2015
Those animating forces were at the center of the most consequential – and controversial – decision Mr. Pence made as governor: signing a 2015 law that could have made it easier for religious conservatives to refuse service to gay couples just as same-sex marriage was spreading across the country.
FORCED TO REVISE LAW
The national firestorm generated by the law was so fierce that sports leagues, trade groups and technology companies threatened to boycott Mr. Pence’s state, forcing him to revise the law in a compromise that infuriated both sides of the debate.
SUPPORTED BY TEA PARTY
By the time he was elected to Congress in 2000, after two failed tries, Mr. Pence had missed the Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich and his scrappy, fiscally conservative acolytes who stormed Washington in 1994. Nobody, it seemed, had told Mr. Pence that the rebellion was over. He arrived in the House determined to slash federal spending and shrink the role of government.
NOT TO BE
It was not to be: House Republicans, led by President George W. Bush, created giant new programs like Medicare Part D and spent trillions bailing out Wall Street after the financial crisis.
12 YEARS IN CONGRESS – NOTHING
He left little mark on the institution: During his 12-year congressional career, he introduced 90 bills and resolutions. None became law.
BANNED ALL ABORTIONS
So far, he has struggled to carve out a national reputation beyond his polarizing pursuit of socially conservative causes. In an echo of his actions on gay rights, he signed a strict new law in March that bans abortions based solely on the fetus having a disability such as Down syndrome. The measure inflamed many women and abortion-rights activists across the country and now faces a court challenge.
“A society,” Mr. Pence said at the time, “can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable — the aged, the infirm, the disabled and the unborn.”
WANTS HIS COUNTRY BACK
His conservatism, friends said, is firmly rooted in his Indiana childhood, a postcard from a tranquil Midwest of the 1960’s. The son of a gas station manager, he was a quiet altar boy whose favorite childhood memory was playing in a neighborhood creek.
In college, he gravitated from his family’s Catholicism to evangelical Christianity after a fraternity brother at Hanover College “challenged me to take seriously the claims of Christ,” Mr. Pence later recalled on House floor.
His small-town, plain-spoken personality was the centerpiece of his early campaigns. In 1988, during his first run for Congress, he rode a single-speed bicycle across 261 miles of his district to meet voters. He lost.
But his feel for the local mood and mores allowed him to master a form of communication that proved vital to his political rise: talk radio. After he lost the 1988 campaign and another in 1990, “The Mike Pence Show” became his link to voters across Indiana and a springboard into the world of national conservatives. And it paved the way for his eventual victory in a 2000 race for Congress.
NO PERSONAL ATTACKS
By then, Mr. Pence had made a declaration that could limit his new political partnership with Mr. Trump, whose style leaves no rival untouched. He swore off personal attacks on campaign opponents, saying he regretted his tactics against his two-time Democratic rival, Representative Phil Sharp.
NEGATIVE CAMPAIGNING IS WRONG
Negative campaigning, I now know, is wrong,” Mr. Pence wrote in a contrite essay after he lost to Mr. Sharp. In it, he quoted from the Bible about Jesus and sin. “A campaign,” Mr. Pence posited, “ought to demonstrate the basic human decency of the candidate.”
Mr. Sharp, in an interview, seemed unmoved. “To me, neither he nor Trump are of presidential timber,” Mr. Sharp said.
STILL REGRETS NEGATIVE CAMPAIGNING
But friends said it was a sincere conversion. Curt Smith, the president of the Indiana Family Institute, a conservative group, said Mr. Pence still talked about his regret over that poisonous campaign years later. “Mike talks about his mistakes,” Mr. Smith said. “He is coming from a place of conviction.”
EXCEPT FOR GAYS
Admission of error did not come as easily in the case of the religious exceptions law that Mr. Pence signed in 2015. After offending gays across the country, enduring a backlash from the state’s business community and undergoing a painfully awkward nationally televised interview in which he struggled to explain the law’s on-the-ground impact, Mr. Pence acknowledged only that he could have better handled the TV encounter.
Soon after, he accepted a revision to the law that he said would prevent businesses from denying services to gay couples, or anyone else. “It was badly mishandled,” said Mr. Lenkowsky, the former Indiana University professor.
On that, even Mr. Pence’s conservative allies agree. The compromise Mr. Pence struck, said Mr. Smith, “turned out to be a dramatic unraveling, and I was very disappointed.”
Mr. Pence, however, seems unperturbed by the politically costly decision and the resulting cultural clash that has come to define his time in office.
“I don’t think it’s something he regrets,” said Mr. Lenkowsky. “If that’s his identity, that’s his identity; he can live with it.”