INDIANAPOLIS -- Mike Pence, the Indiana governor who just two weeks ago was plucked from relative political anonymity to become Donald Trump's vice presidential candidate, overtook a hotel ballroom in a northern suburb of Detroit on Thursday night.
The scene had the theatrics of what has become a traditional rally for the GOP's nominee with the “Lock her up!” chants directed at Democrat Hillary Clinton and the over-modulated Rolling Stones anthem “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” blaring from the ballroom speakers.
But one thing was notably absent -- the Republican nominee himself.
On his first full week on the campaign trail, Pence seemed to seal any lingering questions about his ability to serve as a potent running mate and advocate for the freewheeling Trump — carefully clarifying several of his running mate’s sensitive comments, providing humbling endorsements of Trump and serving as a crowd-pleasing opening act or hitting the high notes solo.
“It’s really remarkable -- [Clinton will] take to the stage tonight,” Pence began to tell the more than 600 backers gathered just a short time before Clinton was set to accept the Democratic Party’s nomination in Philadelphia and address the country on national television.
But before Pence could continue his remarks, the raucous, packed room began jeering at the mention of Clinton, drowning out Pence as sporadic chants of “Lock her up!” progressively synchronized with others throughout the room. Pence stood behind the podium for more than 20 seconds, not actively trying to pacify the crowd.
“The Democrats are about to welcome to the stage and anoint someone who represents everything this nation is tired of,” Pence eventually continued. “Hillary Clinton must never become president.”
Pence, introduced to the country by his self-prescribed nickname “Rush Limbaugh on decaf,” has effectively shifted during his speeches this week from a bellowing, confident voice that reverberated throughout the rooms to a more poised, hushed tenor that led to the bubbling crowd quieting to an intense listen.
Each of Pence’s three solo events over the course of 24 hours attracted hundreds.
“I recognize I’m kind of a B-list Republican celebrity,” Pence laughed at his Waukesha, Wisconsin rally on Wednesday night. “So, thank you for coming out tonight. I’m just humbled by this turnout.”
Chants of “Pence, Pence, Pence” quickly became a chorus among the more than 500 in attendance, who also saw the state’s Gov. Scott Walker give a full-throated backing of the GOP ticket while slighting Ted Cruz, who he had happened to endorse from the same stage three months earlier.
“I’m voting on my conscience in this election!” Walker roared before laying out his reasons for voting in November for the Trump-Pence ticket.
Pence’s solo campaign stops followed a three-day swing by Trump’s side earlier in the week in which the tandem became increasingly comfortable with each other’s presence.
“He's like the most perfect human being, this guy,” Trump said, while looking at Pence, from their Roanoke town hall on Monday.
Through the week, Pence began to mimic the nominee’s on-stage hand gestures and delivered, with vigor, ringing endorsements of his new partner.
“I’m just here to tell you -- he’s a good man – and Donald Trump is going to be a great president of the United States of America,” Pence told local Grand Rapids Republicans on Thursday morning. He followed: “ He’s a patriot. He’s a fighter. He’s a builder. He’s a very candid man.”
At the VFW national convention in Charlotte on Tuesday, Trump willfully stood by his partner, who Trump invited to also address the several thousand veterans gathered. But unlike a week prior in a New York City ballroom where Trump introduced Pence as his running mate with little fanfare or perceived interest, Trump grinned by Pence’s side on Tuesday as he scanned the convention hall crowd, giving off a look of pride to have Pence along with.
In the two weeks since his selection, Pence has straddled responding to statements by Trump that he ultimately contradicted, or clarified.
On Wednesday, Trump told reporters that he hoped Russia would “find the 30,000 emails that are missing” from Hillary Clinton’s email server. But less than an hour later, Pence released a statement laying out the assurance that there would be “serious consequences” if it was found that Russia meddled in U.S. elections. On Thursday, Pence followed up in an interview with radio host Laura Ingraham that it was “clearly a sarcastic comment” by Trump.
Pence and Trump also offered contrasting perspectives on Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Wednesday. Trump told reporters he and Kasich “don’t have good chemistry together” and suggested Kasich has a “habit” of saying “things that maybe are a little bit shaky.” Pence, meanwhile, in an interview with WTVG TV that aired hours later, said the Trump ticket will “work for [Kasich’s] support” and noted his personal “tremendous amount of respect for John Kasich.”
Just a day after Trump selected him as his VP selection, Pence told Fox News that he would be willing to privately address any disagreements with Trump – but would ultimately stand by the potential president’s final positions.
“You know, you shut the door – you tell the boss exactly what you think,” Pence said at the time, continuing: “But when the door opens, the job of the vice president is to stand right next to the president and implement the policy that he’s decided. And I’m prepared to do that.”
Last week, Trump caused a stir in the international community when he suggested to the New York Times that NATO allies may have to “fulfill their obligations” to the U.S. to receive aid.
A day later, however, Pence looked to clarify the ticket’s position in an interview with PBS NewsHour. He committed that the U.S. would “uphold our treaty obligations.”
Now, with just 100 days until the election, Pence told the Detroit crowd they had the opportunity to “choose to take the road less traveled.”
Pence, moments later, followed up as part of his closing pitch: “We have but one choice – that man is ready. This team is ready. Our party is ready. This movement is ready.”