Vice Presidents Collage

The Vice Presidency under the Unprecedented President

This site is not just a Kamala Harris fan-page (although it could be). It is devoted to the study of the our nation’s second highest office and to that end, we aren’t done with Pence Vice Presidency. What did the idiosyncratic presidency of Donald Trump mean for the vice presidency?

Since President Carter and Vice President Mondale established the modern vice presidency, what Joel Goldstein calls “The White House Vice Presidency,” certain patterns in the vice president’s role have emerged. Carter granted Mondale complete access to the White House policy process including a West Wing office and regular private meetings between the president and vice president. Since the late 1970s these vice-presidential perquisites have only expanded.

Writing in 1984, Paul Light noted that while these changes to the institution of the vice presidency enabled vice presidential influence, they did not guarantee it. Light found that vice presidents were able to exercise influence when serving presidents new to Washington, political “outsiders,” who’s inexperience created policy vacuums. This trend has also continued as most the presidents elected since the late 1970s had limited experience in national office.

Given President Trump’s status as the ultimate outsider, not only to national politics, but also to politics itself, Vice President Pence should have been well-placed to be influential and expand the role of the vice president. Trump, however, did not use power through the traditional modes and norms, which shaped the vice president’s opportunities to exercise influence.

Pence watching, waiting… White House Photo

That does not appear to have happened.

Pence appears to have maintained the access his predecessors had to the policy process – including regular access to the president. Pence also played traditional roles or administration spokesperson and congressional liaison. While there were instances in which Pence persuaded the president, they appear to have been limited compared to his recent predecessors. On the other hand, policy vacuums enabled Pence to place allies in key positions in the White House and throughout the federal bureaucracy. Like his recent predecessors Pence headed federal task forces, although it is less clear if he was able to lead them effectively. As vice presidential power flows from the president, inconsistent presidential support may have hampered Pence’s effectiveness in this role.

Pence was able to insert his preferences on a range of issues, but the biggest expansion of the vice presidential role was the vast expansion of formal lobbying of the Office of the Vice President for help on regulatory issues.

Others are asked how Trump changed the presidency. A systematic comparison of the vice presidency of Mike Pence to his recent predecessors will help illuminate how Trump changed the vice presidency.

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3 Responses

  1. Excellent post: a thing about Pence is that we really haven’t seen a VP break with a prez as sharply as we saw before/after the Capitol Riot, like even LBJ and HHH’s break wasn’t totally clear for a while.

    I remember Pence doing the weird but necessary Electoral College stuff and (which is a boring and dumb this a VP does) and then the objections and the objections and then well Hell broke lose)

    Anyway I see Pence as a Good Solider: the man who fights for it (his conservative ideology) is asked to compromise for it (Trump) then as the Good Solider gets stuff done (judical stuff, etc), like before the election he thought he might be in high running for 2024, and the everything happened and it seems his political career is over.

    1. We shouldn’t downplay that Pence was pretty weird, pre-Trump a pretty fringe figure in the GOP. That being said, he still operated as a normal politician, and even a fairly savvy one. Pence had a radio show and described himself as Rush Limbaugh on decaf. He said the same stuff, but was genial about it. I think he’ll try the same thing and run for president in 2024 as being the good stuff about Trump without the attitude. I doubt it will work. In that, he’ll take after another Indiana vice president who found little public interest in his presidential ambitions.

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