There is one thing Mike Pence does that drives all the Republican megadonors wild and gets them worked up enough to write $50,000, $100,000, even quarter-million-dollar checks: He listens, intently.
He looks you in the eye and asks you personal questions: How is your oldest son doing after returning home from deployment to Afghanistan? He appears interested while you talk about your bright idea to improve the Health and Human Services Department.
On a particularly swampy day in Washington, D.C., this past September — mid-80s and stagnant humidity, hot enough to sweat through the Joseph A. Bank standard two-button the vice president favors — Pence drew almost 100 people to meet his older brother and encouraged them to give him their money.
Greg Pence, 61, who shares his 59-year-old brother’s shock-white hair but has a longer face and slightly beadier eyes, is running for the vice president’s former congressional seat in Indiana’s 6th District.
At the Pence brothers’ fundraiser, hosted at the National Restaurant Association’s lobbying headquarters, a few blocks northwest of the White House, Mike Pence worked the room full of Washington lobbyists and moneyed Hoosiers. He took on small groups of two and three donors at a time, giving a few minutes to each one and making sure to hit them all. But when Pence turned to speak with an individual donor, the room melted away. Suddenly, it was just the two of them — nobody else — Pence locked in a very serious but warm gaze.
Greg appeared a bit more shell-shocked — this is his first serious foray into politics, and he hasn’t done a lot of so-called grip-and-grins. His wife, Denise, however, was a natural, darting between groups.
Mike Pence, the younger and more charismatic brother — a political animal comfortable among the rich and powerful — is a side of the vice president that the public rarely sees. Onstage, his Reaganesque winks and nods look canned, corny. But in person, it all comes across as genuine. This is how he taps into billionaire bank accounts.
A political animal comfortable among the rich and powerful is a side of Mike Pence the public rarely sees.
In a town made up of opportunists — people who look over your shoulder mid-conversation to see if there’s someone more important than you that they need to attend to — Pence has the political bedside manner of some of the best in the business (think Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Joe Biden). But unlike the “I feel your pain” Clinton, Pence invites more of a one-way conversation: He sits there and takes it all in, rarely interjecting.
A month of observing the vice president on the donor circuit and more than a dozen interviews with Republican political operatives, donors, activists, and congressional staff reveal a new vision of Pence halfway through the Trump administration’s first term: the GOP’s “donor whisperer.”
September started with a jaunt through Florida, fundraising for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott, then a trip to Nevada to raise money for the Republican Governors Association. Stops in Tennessee, Michigan, and other critical states for Republicans followed. When he wasn’t on the road raising cash, Pence was working the fundraising circuit in Washington, D.C., outside the White House.
Pence didn’t fall into the fundraiser role by accident. At the beginning of the year, senior White House staff approached President Trump and told him he’d have to let Pence do the heavy lifting on gathering contributions. The White House, and the GOP, needed somebody who would hit the stump every week and could pour days and weeks into endlessly soliciting donors — grooming and maintaining relationships that would turn on the money tap. Trump laughed and readily supported putting Pence in charge of that, recalled one Republican familiar with the conversation who agreed to speak on background. The president had never wanted to do the fundraisers anyway. He prefers the intimacy of gabbing with trusted friends or the validation of raucous campaign-style rallies. Plus, Trump is a germaphobe.