God’s Plan for Mike Pence

Will the vice president—and the religious right—be rewarded for their embrace of Donald Trump?

Casting himself as the heir to the popular outgoing governor, Mitch Daniels, he avoided social issues and ran on a pragmatic, business-friendly platform. He used Ronald Reagan as a political style guru and told his ad makers that he wanted his campaign commercials to have “that ‘Morning in America’ feel.” He meticulously fine-tuned early cuts of the ads, asking his consultants to edit this or reframe that or zoom in here instead of there.

.. set about cutting taxes and taking on local unions—burnishing a résumé that would impress Republican donors and Iowa caucus-goers. The governor’s stock began to rise in Washington

..  In recent years, the religious right had been abruptly forced to pivot from offense to defense in the culture wars—abandoning the “family values” crusades and talk of “remoralizing America,” and focusing its energies on self-preservation.

..“Many evangelicals were experiencing the sense of an almost existential threat,” Russell Moore, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, told me.

It was only a matter of time, he said, before cultural elites’ scornful attitudes would help drive Christians into the arms of a strongman like Trump. “I think there needs to be a deep reflection on the left about how they helped make this happen.”

.. Coming into the game, Trump had formed an opinion of the Indiana governor as prudish, stiff, and embarrassingly poor, according to one longtime associate.

.. Pence asked what his job description would be if they wound up in the White House together. Trump gave him the same answer he’d been dangling in front of other prospective running mates for weeks: He wanted “the most consequential vice president ever.” Pence was sold.

.. “I knew they would enjoy each other’s company,” Conway told me, adding, “Mike Pence is someone whose faith allows him to subvert his ego to the greater good.”

.. Pence spent much of their time on the course kissing Trump’s ring. You’re going to be the next president of the United States, he said. It would be the honor of a lifetime to serve you.

Afterward, he made a point of gushing to the press about Trump’s golf game. “He beat me like a drum,” Pence confessed, to Trump’s delight.

.. Trump released a list of potential Supreme Court nominees with unimpeachably pro-life records and assembled an evangelical advisory board composed of high-profile faith leaders.

.. One of the men asked to join the board was Richard Land, of the Southern Evangelical Seminary. When the campaign approached him with the offer, Land says, he was perplexed. “You do know that Trump was my last choice, right?” he said. But he ultimately accepted, and when a campaign aide asked what his first piece of advice was, he didn’t hesitate: “Pick Mike Pence.”

.. Then, on July 12, a miracle: During a short campaign swing through Indiana, Trump got word that his plane had broken down on the runway, and that he would need to spend the night in Indianapolis. With nowhere else to go, Trump accepted an invitation to dine with the Pences.

.. In fact, according to two former Trump aides, there was no problem with the plane. Paul Manafort, who was then serving as the campaign’s chairman, had made up the story to keep the candidate in town an extra day and allow him to be wooed by Pence.

.. Pence spoke of Trump in a tone that bordered on worshipful. One of his rhetorical tics was to praise the breadth of his running mate’s shoulders. Trump was, Pence proclaimed, a “broad-shouldered leader,” in possession of “broad shoulders and a big heart,” who had “the kind of broad shoulders” that enabled him to endure criticism while he worked to return “broad-shouldered American strength to the world stage.”

.. Campaign operatives discovered that anytime Trump did something outrageous or embarrassing, they could count on Pence to clean it up. “He was our top surrogate by far,”

.. “He was this mild-mannered, uber-Christian guy with a Midwestern accent telling voters, ‘Trump is a good man; I know what’s in his heart.’ It was very convincing—you wanted to trust him.

.. Even some of Trump’s most devoted loyalists marveled at what Pence was willing to say. There was no talking point too preposterous, no fixed reality too plain to deny

.. When, during the vice-presidential debate, in early October, he was confronted with a barrage of damning quotes and questionable positions held by his running mate, Pence responded with unnerving message discipline, dismissing documented facts as “nonsense” and smears.

.. It was the kind of performance—a blur of half-truths and “whatabout”s and lies—that could make a good Christian queasy.

.. Marc Short, a longtime adviser to Pence and a fellow Christian, told me that the vice president believes strongly in a scriptural concept evangelicals call “servant leadership.” The idea is rooted in the Gospels, where Jesus models humility by washing his disciples’ feet and teaches, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”

..  when he accepted the vice-presidential nomination, he believed he was committing to humbly submit to the will of Donald Trump. “Servant leadership is biblical,” Short told me. “That’s at the heart of it for Mike, and it comes across in his relationship with the president.”

.. “His faith teaches that you’re under authority at all times.

  • Christ is under God’s authority,
  • man is under Christ’s authority,
  • children are under the parents’ authority,
  • employees are under the employer’s authority.”

.. “Mike,” he added, “always knows who’s in charge.”

.. On friday, october 7, 2016, The Washington Post published the Access Hollywood tape

.. Most alarming to the aides and operatives inside Trump Tower, Mike Pence suddenly seemed at risk of going rogue.

.. Republican donors and party leaders began buzzing about making Pence the nominee and drafting Condoleezza Rice as his running mate.

.. The furtive plotting, several sources told me, was not just an act of political opportunism for Pence. He was genuinely shocked by the Access Hollywood tape. In the short time they’d known each other, Trump had made an effort to convince Pence that—beneath all the made-for-TV bluster and bravado—he was a good-hearted man with faith in God. On the night of the vice-presidential debate, for example, Trump had left a voicemail letting Pence know that he’d just said a prayer for him. The couple was appalled by the video, however. Karen in particular was “disgusted,” says a former campaign aide. “She finds him reprehensible—just totally vile.

.. Pence turns to a favorite passage in Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

.. “They thought they were going to be able to get him to drop out before the second debate,” said a former campaign aide. “Little did they know, he has no shame.”

.. Trump showed up in St. Louis for the debate with a group of Bill Clinton accusers in tow, ranting about how Hillary’s husband had done things to women that were far worse than his own “locker-room talk.”

.. In political circles, there had been a widespread, bipartisan recognition that Pence was a decent man with a genuine devotion to his faith. But after watching him in 2016, many told me, they believed Pence had sold out.

.. watching Pence vouch for Trump made him sad. “Ah, Mike,” he sighed. “Ambition got the best of him.” It’s an impression that even some of Pence’s oldest friends and allies privately share.

.. “The number of compromises he made to get this job, when you think about it, is pretty staggering.”

.. Pastor Ralph Drollinger, for example, caught Trump’s attention in December 2015, when he said in a radio interview, “America’s in such desperate straits—especially economically—that if we don’t have almost a benevolent dictator to turn things around, I just don’t think it’s gonna happen through our governance system.” Now Drollinger runs a weekly Bible study in the West Wing.

.. On one side, there are those who argue that good Christians are obligated to support any leader, no matter how personally wicked he may be, who stands up for religious freedom and fights sinful practices such as abortion. Richard Land told me that those who withhold their support from Trump because they’re uncomfortable with his moral failings will “become morally accountable for letting the greater evil prevail.”

.. On the other side of the debate is a smaller group that believes the Christians allying themselves with Trump are putting the entire evangelical movement at risk. Russell Moore, of the Southern Baptist Convention, has made this case forcefully.

.. only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.”

.. One pastor compared Pence to Mordechai, who ascended to the right hand of a Persian king known for throwing lavish parties and discarding his wife after she refused to appear naked in front of his friends.

.. Pastor Mark Burns—a South Carolina televangelist who was among the first to sign on as a faith adviser to Trump—told me Pence’s role in the administration is like that of Jesus, who once miraculously calmed a storm that was threatening to sink the boat

.. Of the 15 Cabinet secretaries Trump picked at the start of his presidency, eight were evangelicals. It was, gushed Ted Cruz, “the most conservative Cabinet in decades.”

.. Pence understood the price of his influence. To keep Trump’s ear required frequent public performances of loyalty and submission—and Pence made certain his inner circle knew that enduring such indignities was part of the job.

.. “Look, I’m in a difficult position here,” Pence said, according to someone familiar with the meeting. “I’m going to have to 100 percent defend everything the president says. Is that something you’re going to be able to do if you’re on my staff?”

.. Trump does not always reciprocate this respect. Around the White House, he has been known to make fun of Pence for his religiosity.

.. During a conversation with a legal scholar about gay rights, Trump gestured toward his vice president and joked, “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”

..  “They have moved to an ends-justifies-the means style of politics that would have been unimaginable before this last campaign.”

.. he thought it was so low class,” says the adviser. “He thinks the Pences are yokels.”

.. Social conservatives had been lobbying the president to issue a sweeping executive order aimed at carving out protections for religious organizations and individuals opposed to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and transgender rights. The proposed order was fairly radical, but proponents argued that it would strike a crucial blow against the militant secularists trying to drive the faithful out of the public square.

.. “Bannon wanted to fight for it,” says the Trump associate, “and he was really unimpressed that Pence wouldn’t do anything.”

.. But perhaps Pence was playing the long game—weighing the risks of taking on Trump’s kids, and deciding to stand down in the interest of preserving his relationship with the president.

.. What would a Pence presidency look like? To a conservative evangelical, it could mean a glorious return to the Christian values upon which America was founded. To a secular liberal, it might look more like a descent into the dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale.

.. What critics should worry about is not that Pence believes in God, but that he seems so certain God believes in him. What happens when manifest destiny replaces humility, and the line between faith and hubris blurs? What unseemly compromises get made? What means become tolerable in pursuit of an end?

.. Trump’s order merely made it easier for pastors to voice political opinions from the pulpit—a conspicuously self-serving take on religious freedom.

.. The faith leaders pulled out their smartphones and snapped selfies, intoxicated by the VIP treatment. “Mr. President,” Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, said at one point, “we’re going to be your most loyal friends. We’re going to be your enthusiastic supporters. And we thank God every day that you’re the president of the United States.”

.. “I’ve been with [Trump] alone in the room when the decisions are made. He and I have prayed together,” Pence said. “This is somebody who shares our views, shares our values, shares our beliefs.” Pence didn’t waste time touting his own credentials. With this crowd, he didn’t need to. Instead, as always, he lavished praise on the president.

A bold new legal defense for Trump: Presidents cannot obstruct justice

The brazen assertion Monday by one of President Trump’s lawyers that a president cannot be found guilty of obstruction of justice signaled a controversial defense strategy in the wide-ranging Russia probe, as Trump’s political advisers are increasingly concerned about the legal advice he is receiving.

.. Trump tweeted over the weekend that he knew then-national security adviser Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador before firing him in February — and before FBI Director James B. Comey said Trump asked him to be lenient while investigating Flynn. Experts said the president’s admission increased his legal exposure to obstruction-of-justice charges

.. Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd sought to excuse the president’s tweet in part by telling Axios and NBC News on Monday that the “president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case.”

Dowd declined to elaborate on his theory or explain the emerging legal strategy to The Washington Post.

Inside the White House, some senior officials were baffled that Dowd publicly offered this interpretation of the law, which has been advanced since the summer by constitutional scholar Alan Dershowitz in defense of Trump but flatly dismissed by many other legal scholars.

.. “It’s interesting as a technical legal issue, but the president’s lawyers intend to present a fact-based defense, not a mere legal defense,” Cobb said in an interview with The Post.
“We have a president, not a king,”
.. “No one is above the law, whether it be Trump or any of his close associates. It’s the sort of desperate claim that makes you wonder, ‘What exactly are they hiding?’”
.. “You cannot charge a president with obstruction of justice for exercising his constitutional power to fire Comey and his constitutional authority to tell the Justice Department who to investigate, who not to investigate,” Dershowitz said. “That’s what Thomas Jefferson did, that’s what Lincoln did, that’s what Roosevelt did. We have precedents that clearly establish that.”
.. Dershowitz was appearing on “Fox & Friends,” a pro-Trump morning show that the president regularly watches. After his appearance, Trump tweeted, “A must watch: Legal Scholar Alan Dershowitz was just on @foxandfriends talking of what is going on with respect to the greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. political history.”
.. Furthermore, he wrote, “the president has the constitutional authority to stop the investigation of any person by simply pardoning that person.”

.. Cobb and Dowd have urged Trump to cooperate fully with Mueller’s investigation, providing documents when asked by the special counsel and encouraging White House staffers to comply with requests for interviews.

.. Cobb and Dowd also have been privately assuring the president that the Mueller probe was likely to reach its conclusion by the end of this year, complete with a public exoneration of Trump of any wrongdoing.
.. In Monday’s interview, Cobb said he still believes Mueller’s investigation of Trump will reach “an appropriate result” by Christmas or early January.
.. Stephen K. Bannon — have been grumbling for weeks that the president’s legal strategy is too compliant with Mueller and not combative enough.
.. “The concern is that every time the president feels a little bit of pain from what Mueller’s doing, [his lawyers] give him OxyContin and tell him he’ll be fine by the morning,” this strategist said metaphorically
.. Cobb said, “There’s no question that Bannon is doing the president a great disservice by agitating persistently on this issue. Internally, where people are actually informed, there’s no consternation about the decision to cooperate fully with the special counsel, and Mr. Bannon has yet to identify what fights he would pick and how constructive that would be.”

.. In 1999, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, argued that Clinton should be removed from office for obstructing justice in the investigation into his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.“The facts are disturbing and compelling on the president’s intent to obstruct justice,” Sessions said at the time.

Trump may face a reckoning in case brought by female accuser

But by turning personal and branding the women liars, Trump has perhaps unwittingly played into a cutting-edge strategy in the legal pursuit of sexual misconduct — claims of defamation such as those used against comedian Bill Cosby and in a lesser-known New York case, argued by two lawyers who are now representing Zervos.

.. Trump could be called to testify, with the unwelcome specter of a former president looming over him: It was Bill Clinton’s misleading sworn testimony — not the repeated allegations of sexual harassment against him — that eventually led to his impeachment.

“It’s almost a train you can’t stop going down the tracks,” said Joseph Cammarata, who represented Paula Jones against Clinton and, more recently, represented seven Cosby accusers in a defamation suit. “It opens him up to have to answer questions about sexual relations, other relationships, what might have been said, to open up your whole life.”

.. The use of defamation to litigate an underlying allegation of sexual misconduct addresses other challenges: Often, the statute of limitations is up before accusations come to light; in some instances, the he-said-she-said nature of the testimony makes accusations hard to prove.

.. Zervos is represented by Gloria Allred and her New York based co-counsel, Mariann Meier Wang, who declined to make Zervos available for questions. Allred says she represents Zervos pro bono on her website, where she appeals for donations to pay Zervos’s other legal expenses and says excess contributions will go to rape crisis centers.

.. In news conferences, she has been asked whether targets could include outtakes from “The Apprentice,” which might show how Trump treated female contestants such as Zervos.

.. After Zervos made her allegations, Trump posted a statement on his campaign website: “To be clear, I never met her at a hotel or greeted her inappropriately a decade ago.” He decried what he called “made up events,” “100% fabricated and made-up charges,” saying in the last presidential debate that the women were put forward by the campaign of Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival, or motivated by the desire for “ten minutes of fame,” according to Zervos’s complaint.

.. “After he called me a liar I was threatened, bullied and saw my business targeted,”

.. Trump’s attorneys argue that the president is immune and that the comments he made were political opinion and therefore “squarely protected by the First Amendment.”

.. In 1997, a Supreme Court ruling made it possible for a sitting president to be sued for private actions that occurred before he took office. Trump’s attorneys are arguing that Clinton v. Jones, which applies to federal litigation, does not apply in state courts.

.. “That is where [Trump’s attorneys] are putting their linchpin,”

.. If she is deemed a private citizen, Zervos simply would have to show that Trump was negligent toward the truth. If she is a public figure, the bar is far higher.

.. “She would have to prove he knew [what he said] was false or had reckless disregard for the truth,”

.. Bill Pruitt, who worked on “The Apprentice,” tweeted, “As a producer on seasons 1 & 2 of #theApprentice I assure you: when it comes to the #trumptapes there are far worse.”

.. If, on the other hand, the suit does proceed, it could encourage more litigation against a president who entered office with an unusual array of lawsuits in his wake.

And if Zervos wins, her victory could embolden other accusers.

“There are 10 or 11 other women waiting in the wings,” Rabin said.

The Sterile Society

To be for Clinton, as Tara Isabella Burton noted recently in a retrospective piece for Vox, was to be for a dream of sexual sophistication, a Europe-envying vision of perfect zipless adult bliss.

.. the idea that sexual sophistication requires defending pigs from prudes has largely fallen out of fashion.

.. Part of the problem is economic: Everything from student debt to wage stagnation to child-rearing costs has eroded the substructure of the family, and policymakers have been pathetically slow to respond.

.. If women are having fewer children, it must be because they want fewer children. (In fact most women want more children than they have.)