Atlantic writer McKay Coppins recently published a nuanced account of Vice President Mike Pence’s rise to the second-highest office in the land.
On today’s show, he talked about the interviews he gathered for the article, which is headlined “God’s Plan for Mike Pence.” Coppins shared his theories about Pence’s presidential aspirations as well as what he knows about Karen Pence’s response to that infamous “Access Hollywood” tape.
“It is not a slam on religious people,” Glenn said of the article. “It’s just trying to understand Mike Pence and what drives him. How can he have two masters?”
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors.
GLENN: So there was a — there’s a new book out, The Wilderness. Deep inside the Republican Party’s combative, contentious, chaotic quest to take back the White House.
And out of that, the writer, McKay Coppins, has written an article, God’s plan for Mike Pence. And if you just look through it, because it’s from The Atlantic. The pictures, you know, make Mike Pence look like he’s an apostle or whatever. But it is not a slam on religious people. It’s just trying to understand Mike Pence and what drives him. How can he have two masters? How can he be the guy who we all think Mike Pence is? But then stomach as much as he has.
And it’s a really fascinating look into Mike Pence and especially today, with the — the president possibly, you know, claiming — I’ll believe it when I see it, but I think he’s going to do it. Today, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. So welcome to the program, McKay Coppins.
McKAY: Thanks for having me.
GLENN: You bet. So McKay, first, let’s talk a little bit about Israel and Jerusalem. Does this surprise you?
McKAY: Well, it’s something that he campaigned on, Trump did. And it’s something that I know a lot of people in his orbit have been claiming was coming. But, you know, past presidential candidates have campaigned on this as well and then not followed through on it. It’s one of those eternal promises that is made to conservative Christians and conservative Jews in this country, and then it never ends up happening.
I still would frankly be a little skeptical. I think I’ll believe it when I see it stance is the right one. They’ve cautioned this takes a long time. Obviously to build an embassy would take a long time. But, you know, it certainly — if it ends up happening, it’s certainly a victory for a lot of the conservatives who voted for Trump on this.
GLENN: Well, is it a victory just to officially declare it’s the capital from the White House?
McKAY: Sure. Yeah. That’s more than has been done before.
GLENN: Right. I kind of look at it like the Bear Ears monument, that he can say whatever he wants and say, yeah, we declare. But until you’ve actually cemented it and there’s just no turning back — as soon as you move the embassy, then it’s more than Donald Trump, then it is the United States is on that course.
McKAY: That’s right. That’s why I think we have to wait to see if the embassy actually gets built, or if actual, tangible plans get announced. And that — you know, we just don’t know yet.
GLENN: Okay. So let’s talk a little bit about Mike Pence. Because I think this kind of fits into your — the way you look at Mike Pence. And that is, he’s there because he believes that God works in mysterious ways. And maybe he’s just supposed to stand up at some point if the president falls down.
McKAY: Right. This is the thing that I found really interesting about Mike Pence, is that he is, by all accounts, in contrary to I think some liberal caricatures of him, a genuine man of faith. Religion is at the core of his identity and has been at least since college and probably even before that.
You know, he really is motivated by a desire to serve God. And he thinks that he can do that in the political realm. But, you know, it’s also kind of tangled up in his personal ambitions as well.
So, you know, when Donald Trump came knocked last year, last spring, after securing the Republican nomination and, you know, said I want you to be my running mate, Mike Pence was kind of faced with the choice that millions of conservative Christians were faced with last year, which is, can we overlook the kind of — you know, to put it politely, flaws in this man’s character, right? Can we overlook this man’s character, his values, his perhaps lack of morality. And still support him in pursuit of a broader, and they would say, more important policy agenda. Political agenda.
And Mike Pence made the decision that he could. And so did frankly an overwhelming number of conservative Christians. I think it’s still an open question whether that compromise, whether that gamble will pay off, for Mike Pence and for the people who supported him. I mean, they did — people who video for Trump just because of the policy victories that they want to obtain, they’ve gotten some things, right? They’ve gotten the Supreme Court justice, who is a conservative. Just today, like you said, the announcement about Jerusalem, that could be a big victory for them. But at the same time, every compromise has consequences. And Mike Pence finds himself in the middle of this kind of swirling investigation of over Russia. And, you know, while he is, by all accounts, trying to stay aboveboard, trying to keep his hands clean of all of this, when you cozy up to somebody like Trump, a lot of things can happen that you wouldn’t expect. I think that’s a fair way to put it.
GLENN: So would you say your impression — because I just want to give you my impression. I don’t want to quote any conversations. But I was around Mike Pence during the run-up, when it was still not clear that Donald Trump was still going to be the candidate.
STU: The Indiana primary, where pence had endorsed Cruz.
McKAY: Right. Right.
GLENN: My impression at the time, in speaking to Mike Pence, was that he knew exactly who Donald Trump was, and it wasn’t a guy who he had a lot of faith in, to put it mildly.
McKAY: That is I think an accurate impression.
GLENN: All right.
McKAY: No, Mike Pence was not on the Trump train. Early — remember when Trump announced the Muslim ban or the proposed Muslim ban in December of 2015, Pence came out in opposition to it. He said that this is an affront to American values or something like that. And he spoke out at other times during the primary.
My impression is that he was fairly clear about who Donald Trump was. In fact, after this story came out — I haven’t shared this yet, but after my profile was published yesterday, I got an email from somebody who was an Indiana delegate, or was slated to be a delegate at the Republican National Convention from Indiana.
And when Trump won the nomination, this person decided they couldn’t show up to the convention. And said that, in the run-up to — during the primary, kind of in the — when it was still not clear whether Trump would win, this person got a lot of phone calls and emails from people in Pence’s inner circle, like, oh, yeah, the governor agrees with you. This is not great. He shares your concerns. And then a few weeks later, was announced that he would be the running mate.
GLENN: So let me ask you about that. Because you — in this interview, you spoke to his wife. You’ve done your homework here.
Do you believe that Pence did this for his — as you said earlier, his political aspirations. Or did he do this because he thought, I may — you know, it may be, you know, God’s will that somebody is standing in that room, that doesn’t necessarily agree with him. And I need to hold the line and be there.
McKAY: I actually think that’s not — those two aren’t mutually exclusive. My impression from all the interviews I’ve done, all the people I’ve talked to close to him is that he got himself to a point, Pence did, where he believed that both, yes, you know, he had political aspirations. He’s always believed — he wanted to be president ever since he was in college. But also, he believed he could do some good there, right?
And, look, this is something that all people struggle with. I don’t think that this is uniquely a problem that Mike Pence has faced. Everyone tries to reconcile their ambition with their ideals, right? Whether their religious ideals or whatever else. And I think he’s convinced himself that being in the room next to Donald Trump, having the president’s ear, is a way to — to do good. To — to promote an agenda that will help people, that will, you know, protect other Christians, that will push the ball forward on issues that he cares about. So I think that, you know, part of the reason he’s been so loyal to Trump is because of that.
GLENN: Back in a second. Because I want to talk to McKay about his conversation with Mrs. Pence, who had some things that were quite frank in the article. When we come back.
GLENN: McKay Coppins, who has written a great story, God’s plan for Mike Pence. In it, he tells a story of the Access Hollywood tape, and what Mike Pence’s wife and said what happened behind the scenes. Can you just walk us through this, McKay?
McKAY: Yeah, sure. This is based on interviews with former campaign aides and people close to the Pences or were friends with the Pences. So first of all I should say that after Pence joined the ticket, Trump made an effort to kind of convince Pence that beneath all the made for TV bluster Trumpian bravado, he was actually a good guy with faith in God. Because he wanted Trump to feel comfortable on the ticket and feel like he was doing a good thing.
And, in fact, on the night of the vice presidential debate, Trump left a voice mail letting Pence know that he had just said a prayer for him, which is something that Pence found very moving and really loved.
So fast forward to the Access Hollywood tape coming out, and I’m told that this was a really jarring experience for — for Mike Pence and, in particular, his wife. One campaign aide told me that Karen Pence was disgusted by the video. And the former campaign aide said that she finds him reprehensible. Just totally vile. That’s the direct quote.
GLENN: Could have been quoting my wife.
McKAY: Now —
GLENN: And I think most women in the country at that moment.
McKAY: Yeah, probably a lot of women at that moment. Exactly.
So here’s — what’s interesting though is that you remember kind of the 48 hours after that tape came out, it was just this moment of total upheaval in the campaign. Republicans were calling on Trump to jump out. There was all kinds of chaos. And I report in the story, in the midst of all that, Mike Pence made it clear to the Republican National Committee, that he was ready to take Trump’s place as the nominee.
And, in fact, during an emergency meeting between Trump and his top advisers in the midst of all of this that weekend, Reince Priebus, who was then chairman of the RNC actually said that Pence and Condoleezza Rice were ready to step in to form the new G.O.P. ticket. Now, obviously — that didn’t end up happening.
GLENN: What happened? Bannon!
McKAY: Well, yeah, no. Actually, really, yeah, you’re right. I’m told by one former campaign aide, they thought they were going to be able to convince Trump to drop out before the debate that was that Sunday night, that was that weekend.
Instead, Trump was defiant, which as he’s often been. And he showed up. And he brought the Clinton accusers. You remember this.
GLENN: Yep. Yep.
McKAY: And by the end of that debate, kind of turned things around. And Republicans had stopped calling on him to drop out. And by the next day, Pence was back out on the stump. But the reason I think that story is important and the reason I put it in the piece is because it raises questions especially in Trump’s orbit, the people I talk to about how long this loyalty will last from Pence. You know, is Pence really willing to go down with the ship, so to speak, and investigations continue.
GLENN: I find it, McKay, very interesting that now they’re starting to say, did Mike Pence actually know more than he said about Russia?
GLENN: And the idea — I — I think Mike Pence is really smart. And I believe you’re right on the direction you’re going here. And I think Mike is smart enough to see trouble and say, I’m staying way away from that, to remain clean.
GLENN: To be able to be the guy that can rise up behind.
McKAY: Yeah, that’s a good point. I don’t know what’s going to come out. You know, he was the head of the transition, when all this kind of trouble started, right? But I do think that there — obviously, we’ll see what happens and what information comes out. But I do think that, yeah, Pence — above everything else, is, you know, careful. He’s very cautious. Right?
GLENN: Yeah. Yeah.
McKAY: I think he — even though he was head of the transition, I can easily see a scenario where he was operating on a kind of don’t ask, don’t tell policy.
GLENN: McKay Coppins. The article is God’s plan for Mike Pence. More in a minute.
GLENN: Ben Shapiro is going to be joining us at the top of the hour. Ben is going to have a lot to say about what President Trump is supposed to or supposedly going to announce today, that the United States is recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Strangely, that’s a big deal. A very big deal.
And also, the — it appears as though — according to Think Progress, that the case for the people against the bakers in Colorado, did not go well for them yesterday in the Supreme Court. Kelly Shackelford has been there. He was watching the case. And he is going to talk to us. That’s also next hour.
STU: We’re talking to McKay Coppins from The Atlantic, who wrote the article, God’s plan for Mike Pence. One of the reasons I like McKay, and McKay is with us now is he — unlike many mainstream reporters, I get the sense he has — gets — has a much more nuanced understanding of people of faith.
GLENN: Yeah. McKay — you were — you were on the Romney bus for that — that campaign, were you not?
McKAY: Yeah, I was. The only Mormon on the Romney bus as a reporter.
GLENN: And I don’t know if the other people knew that or not. But you were — you were constantly forced to endure religious and Mormon jokes from the other members of the press, is that right?
McKAY: That’s true. Although, I wrote about this after the campaign. I didn’t think it was necessarily malevolent, it was just kind of born out of ignorance for the most part. People made a lot of Mormon jokes, Mormon underwear jokes. But I will say, by the end of that campaign, I think Mormonism had been demystified for most of those reporters and they had come to respect it more.
STU: That was one of the things I thought was interesting about your story about Pence is that I think to a lot of people who are conservative Christians and had a certain impression of Mike Pence, when the Trump stuff started happening, it surprised a lot of people. It seemed like it was against what he stood for and what his belief system was. He sort of explained that here with his idea of servant/leadership that he really has carried with him his entire life. Can you talk about that a little bit?
McKAY: Yeah, this is a Biblical concept. This was described to me by Mark Short, who serves as the White House director of legislative affairs, but has known Mike Pence for a long time.
And what he told me was that this idea of servant leadership is, you know, it’s from the gospels, basically modeled off Jesus who, you know, washed his disciples feet and preached that you had to be humbled before you could be great.
And as early as Pence’s first term as a congressman, he was instructing his staffers to have a servant’s attitude when they dealt with constituents. That his idea was, we’re the servants. And we’re serving them. And we should be humble and try to help them as well as we can. And that attitude is kind of extended throughout his career. When he became part of the G.O.P. leadership in the House, he thought it was his job to be a servant to his fellow Republican congressman and congresswoman. And then when he decided to take the job as running mate, as Donald Trump’s running mate, he believed his job was to be number two to Donald Trump. To serve Donald Trump. Now, a lot of people point to some of the — some of the stuff that Pence does or says in defense of Trump, as how can — how can a good Christian man possibly go out there and spend like this for Donald Trump?
But he doesn’t see that as something that’s out of step with his view of faith and Christianity. He think that he’s meant to be a servant, he’s under Trump’s authority, and that’s his job.
GLENN: So does that mean in his view that — I mean, you know, we’re all sevenths, yes. But when there’s unrighteous leadership, I mean, you know, you go back to the Germans.
McKAY: Well, right.
GLENN: Is there a line? Not suggesting that that would be the line that he would ever approach. But is there a line?
Do you think he has a moral line with him where — you know, for instance, the word is that Trump is now starting to deny that that Access Hollywood was even him.
GLENN: I mean, I can’t imagine coming home to my wife and if my wife said what she did say when that came out, and I defend him afterwards, she would have a hard time stomaching it, as I would. But then if he started to deny, I know my wife would go, really? Really? How much farther are you going to go?
McKAY: Right. Right. That is the question, right? This is why a lot of the people who have known Pence for a long time and who frankly have admired him for a long time, on both sides of the aisle, are kind of alarmed by how far Pence has been willing to go. Because they say, look, I get that you have a job here. I get that to a certain extent, you’re going to have to spin and apologize and justify the president’s action.
But there must be some line you won’t cross, or else, you know, you can justify anything like that. But this is where I think it gets into the broader question of the rest of the conservative Christian community in this country, right?
I quoted — or I cited a statistic from the Public Religion Research Institute, that found that in 2011, only 30 percent of white evangelicals agreed with this statement, that a public official could commit an act of immorality in his private life, but continued to serve ethically in his public life. So only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed that. Basically, they were saying character counts. It matters.
GLENN: Just for the record, I’m still saying that.
McKAY: Well, yeah. Well, and there are still many who say that. But by 2016, 72 percent of white evangelicals believe that. So now the majority of white evangelicals are saying, look, you know somebody can be a bad person in their private life, but still be a good public servant, a good public official. Now, you can debate that. But that is a sea change in evangelical. And, frankly, political ethics among a lot of conservative people of faith.
STU: You know, reading the piece, McKay, I really — I wound up kind of liking Mike Pence more and understanding him, I think, a lot more, which was interesting. Though, we did not have time to get to the most damning thing in this article, which is when faced at his college — when they come and they say, hey, do you guys have kegs? He sells out the fraternity and shows them where the kegs are. Is this accurate?
McKAY: This comes from one of his frat brothers, who, by the way, still likes Mike Pence. But, yeah, he said that the dean showed up and Pence led him straight to the kegs and, yeah, sort of sold his frat buddies out.
STU: I don’t think we’ll ever forgive him for that part of it. But other than that, it was a really interesting read. It’s God’s plan for Mike Pence from The Atlantic. And it’s from McKay Coppins.
GLENN: McKay, thank you so much. Keep up the good work. God bless.
McKAY: Thanks, Glenn.
STU: You can follow McKay Coppins on Twitter @McKayCoppins. And we’ll tweet out the article @GlennBeck and @worldofStu from The Atlantic.