Before Mike Pence accepted Donald Trump’s invitation to run as his vice president, the Indiana governor was locked in a tight re-election campaign. The Democratic candidate, John R. Gregg, also ran against Pence in 2012 and lost by just 2 percentage points. By 2016, Pence’s reputation had been battered by an HIV crisis that he exacerbated and national outcry over the state’s anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” law. The race looked like a toss-up—until Pence dropped out, clearing the way for his less-controversial Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb to run. Holcomb beat Gregg by 6 percentage points in a state where Trump trounced Clinton by 19.
Although Pence aggressively pursued his agenda as governor, his role as vice president has thus far been limited. That may be by design: On Thursday, CNN reported that Pence and his team are growing weary with Trump’s endless scandals and may be taking steps to insulate the veep. With impeachment talk spreading on Capitol Hill, some pundits and politicians are speculating about the possibility of an impending Pence presidency.
On Thursday, I spoke with Gregg—an attorney who has returned to private practice—to get a clearer picture of Pence as a politician, and what we might expect if his longtime political adversary becomes the 46th president of the United States. Our interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mark Joseph Stern: How long have you known Pence?
John R. Gregg: Mike and I went to law school together. I’ve known him for 35 years. He called me two days after the election. I said, “Mr. Vice President, congratulations to you! My best to you and [your wife] Karen.” He said, “Well, we wanted to call and check on you.” We laughed and chatted and swapped a couple texts. In early 2013, after he won [the governor’s race], he had me stop by the governor’s office to see him. We sat there and shot the bull for about an hour. Whenever I was out on the campaign stump, he would always come up if we were in a joint parade. We’d always search each other out. There is a chivalry about him. He has a chivalrous nature.
With that said, we don’t go fishing or hunting. We don’t go out and eat. But we’ve always been friendly toward one another. My differences with him were philosophical, not personal. I never felt he wanted to be governor. It was just a stepping stone to where he’s ended up now.
How would you describe his political style?
Mike is a pleasant person to be around. I don’t talk politics with him because I don’t like that ultraconservative philosophy. We talk baseball, Indiana history, sports, family. Mike Pence…