New York Times offers lots of whispers (hint, hint) about Pence's patient waiting game

Sooooooo ... Did anyone read the OTHER big mainstream news feature involving the vice president?

There was, of course, that tsunami of digital ink about Mike and Karen Pence and their attempts to follow the marital example of Billy Graham rather than Bill Clinton. But there was also a long New York Times feature the other day about the vice president that ran with this calm, friendly headline: "Amid White House Tumult, Pence Offers Trump a Steady Hand."

GetReligion readers can read this report in one of two ways.

First of all, it does contain obvious references to the rather striking differences -- at the level of personal style and, by implication, faith and character -- between President Donald Trump and his squeaky clean evangelical vice president. This led to some nice turns of phrase, such as Pence being a "Hill-wise former Indiana congressman who is typically a palliative presence in an administration of piranhas." Hold that thought.

At the same time, you can read this story as a kind of Game of Thrones parable. Note, for example, that the Times team may have broken some kind of journalism record for the number of off-the-record sources used in an article about a vice president. This is one of those stories that delights inside the Beltway politicos, forcing them to grab a high-lighter pen and play the old "name that White House aide" game.

Read this way, Pence is seen as a kind of quiet, wise Washington pro who is waiting for the other Trump shoe to drop. Thus, the Times notes that "Mr. Pence’s dad-in-the-Norman Rockwell-painting demeanor masks a shrewd political intelligence." In the current White House, Pence is "jarringly out of place, a clean-cut 1950s Republican cheerfully navigating the chaotic 'Mad Max' landscape."

The implication, of course (one senses the presence of Democrats starting research for attacks on a Pence presidency) is that Pence has been muddied just by agreeing to play ball with Trump in the first place.

This is where the religion angle starts to show up.

That’s the challenge he’s faced since accepting the job of Mr. Trump’s straight-man running mate last summer. Many Pence advisers, including his wife, Karen, were wary of the offer.
“I come from a family of preachers,” said Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, who served with Mr. Pence in the House and still communicates with him regularly. “He is an honorable man. He is a Christian man. But there’s going to come a time when the Trump storm is over, and you have spent all this time defending him and repeating the stuff Trump has said. What’s he going to do when his credibility is shot?”

If one reads between the lines in this story -- which exactly what readers are supposed to do -- one of the subplots is that the Trump White House is actually not very friendly to the causes favored by millions of culturally conservative religious believers who held their noses and voted for the morally complicated (to say the least) New York billionaire.

Read the story with that in mind and Pence appears to me a smart DC guy who is being careful not to show his cards too early.

... (Pence) has held his capital in reserve, choosing to tread lightly on certain issues, according to a person with direct knowledge of the discussions, not campaigning aggressively for defunding Planned Parenthood in the renewed health care bill discussions, for instance.
Much of the time he simply seemed out of the loop, Mr. Trump’s man-who-knew-too-little sidekick. Mr. Pence’s philosophy, according to several White House staff members, is that he is a team player who has signaled that he needs to know only what Mr. Trump wants him to know.

Of course, that is one way -- humble, but smart -- for Pence to keep his hands clean.

But here is the passage that evangelicals in Beltway land are sure to be discussing, including those who may have played off-the-record games with the Times team:

Mr. Pence’s relationship with Mr. Trump is more respectful than familial, people close to both men said. They have worked out an odd-couple shtick in public, but the stark cultural differences are obvious. The president briefly tried to curb his use of expletives in front of his religious vice president but has reverted to four-letter form -- and Mr. Pence, who is fond of joining colleagues for moments of shared prayer, has been less religiously demonstrative around Mr. Trump, aides say.
“There is quite a contrast between Mike and the president,” said Representative Luke Messer, an Indiana Republican who currently occupies Mr. Pence’s congressional seat. “Trump does not sound like a Hoosier -- he says things I wouldn’t say, he picks fights I wouldn’t pick. But their relationship really works.”

So what's the big idea here, other than this story's 5-star journalism style guide to how to semi-identify anonymous sources without giving readers any real information that indicates who is playing who?

It would appear that people some at the Times realize that, while there were a few religious conservatives among the steady Trump loyalists, there are lots of believers who agreed to play along because (a) they thought Hillary Clinton would be even worse, in terms of impact on their most cherished (think Supreme Court) beliefs, and (b) they knew that if Trump was pushed out, or fell on his own, that would place Pence in the Oval Office.

Will the most powerful folks in mainstream journalists be as kind to Pence at that hypothetical turn in the road as they were in this feature?

Readers, what is your answer to that question, after seeing the Acela zone reaction to news about some of the conservative details of Mike and Karen Pence's marriage?

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