CLEVELAND — The marriage of Donald Trump and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is not off to a great start.
Donald Trump introduced Pence as his running mate as if it were a painful duty, in a series of long digressions about himself that he had to keep dragging back on track, perhaps hoping that if he talked about himself long enough the situation might resolve itself. (Admittedly, this is Donald Trump’s approach to everything.) Looking at Mike Pence during his first interview side by side with Donald Trump, you had the sense that he had not yet realized that he would have to tell Donald Trump a different story every night in order to keep his head.
It would be a lie to say that they had anything like a natural, easy chemistry together. They have the easy, natural rapport of Lando Calrissian and Darth Vader just when the deal has started to turn. Donald Trump and Mike Pence sitting next to each other doing an interview is like that episode of “Law & Order: SVU” where the stepfather is a suspect and Olivia Benson can’t get him out of the interview.
Mike Pence looks like a ventriloquist’s dummy who is slowly realizing that he has made a horrible mistake.
And we have read this fairy tale before.
Donald Trump is the man you have to marry to keep your family from ruin. He is loud and mean and cuts you off abruptly when you begin to speak. But he is rumored to be extremely wealthy.
He sent a gilded chariot to pick Pence up from his humble home and Pence’s mother kissed him goodbye on the forehead with tears in her eyes.
“You don’t have to do this,” she said, her voice worried.
“I want to,” he said. “I believe in him. He is a good man.”
Mike Pence rode the Trump Train across the country, heart pounding with excitement. Donald Trump had chosen him as a running mate! Him, Mike Pence! He had met his new running mate briefly in his home state of Indiana, and the man seemed approachable and friendly, though they had not spoken long. They would do well for the country together, he hoped. After all, Trump had picked him out of so many, and he was surely pleased with his choice.
The second he arrived at the large tower, things began to look more ominous. Several men who had formerly possessed great integrity and respect in the party stood petrified outside with expressions of horror, their bodies covered in brass and their mouths open in silent screams. Jeb Bush was stuffed and mounted on the wall near the entrance and gazed at him with sad eyes as he walked past.
“Hello?” he called.
“Oh,” Donald Trump said. “It’s you.” His smile faded almost immediately.
“I look forward to our partnership,” Pence said, feebly.
Trump looked through him as though he were not even there. “We’re going to get along great, Michael,” he said, “as long as you remember three things. I’m always right. Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to. And – don’t go to the West Wing.”
“But suppose – suppose I have something I would like to suggest?”
Trump waved his hand. “You trust me, Mike,” he said. “Don’t you? I trust me.”
Pence swallowed. “But you said –”
Donald Trump approached and placed a hand heavily on his shoulder. “Michael,” he said, “I said a lot of things, didn’t I? Maybe last week I said, ‘Picking this Pence guy was a big mistake,’ and I started calling everyone at midnight, and I said, ‘how do I get out of it,’ and they said, ‘no, Donald, you can’t get out, not unless he suffers an accident.’” The hand on his shoulder gripped tighter.
Pence looked around at the room, which suddenly felt much smaller. Melania stood in the corner, her face showing no flicker of emotion. Suddenly he felt very alone.
“I will see you tomorrow for our interview,” Donald Trump said. “Wear a blue tie, and try not to say anything stupid.”
Pence started up the stairs.
“Also don’t go upstairs,” Donald Trump added.
Mike Pence halted. “What’s up there?” Melania shook her head ‘no’ at him, but he did not see in time.
“Maybe it’s Chris Christie,” Donald Trump said, smiling. “Maybe I put him up there because I grew bored with him. Or maybe it’s my old wife, the madwoman. OR MAYBE DON’T INTERFERE IN MY BUSINESS, MICHAEL.”
Pence wilted. “Where – do I sleep, then?”
“I don’t know,” Donald Trump said. “I don’t care. Chris always slept on the floor. He said he was comfortable there.” He shrugged. “Good night, Michael.”
Pence tried very hard not to cry but his chin wobbled anyway. He curled up uncomfortably on a gold-backed chair that looked like a refugee from an autocrat’s estate sale. In the middle of the night an old housekeeper came and put a blanket over him.
Then he heard footsteps. Donald Trump sat down in the armchair next to him. “Michael,” he said. “I’m full of regrets. I feel like someone in a Sondheim song who has gotten what he thought he wanted.”
“I’m sorry,” Pence said, in a small voice.
“I did not say that you could speak,” Trump said. He sighed. “Chris was always good at understanding when I wanted silence.”
Pence shut his eyes and waited for Trump to go but Trump did not go.
“Talk about Bruce Springsteen,” Donald Trump said, finally. “Talk about moon colonies and Bruce Springsteen.”
Pence tried to. But none of the words were right. After Trump rode the escalator back upstairs, he tried to lull himself to sleep by humming “Back Home Again In Indiana” in a soft minor key.
In the morning his phone rang. It was his wife. “Are you all right?” Karen Pence asked.
Mike Pence swallowed. He did not want her to worry. “Yes,” he said. “I am fine. Donald is a good man, and he will make a great president.”
But even as he spoke he could hear, from upstairs, a bellowing noise of great anguish.
When Donald Trump was off talking to the press, Pence crept up and pushed the door open. The sight was horrifying, although it was what he had expected. Chris Christie sat crouched in the corner of the room, gnawing on an old Springsteen album. “He’ll grow tired of you, too,” Christie muttered, not looking at him. “And then –”
Pence shook his head. “No,” he said, feebly. “He’s a good man. He will make a great president.” But even to him the words sounded false.