In the last administration, President Barack Obama usually spoke with caution and Vice President Joseph Biden occasionally said strange things.
These days the roles seem reversed. Vice President Mike Pence plays the straight man while President Donald Trump does the jeering and agitation.
In South Korea for the opening of the Winter Olympics, Pence spoke in complete sentences. “We will continue to isolate North Korea until it abandons its nuclear and ballistic missile programs once and for all,” he said at the outset.
His declining to stand for the ceremonial entrance of North Korean athletes sent a straightforward political message, whatever the reaction. His tone of voice has been conventional — no yelps of “Rocket Man,” no preening, no “fire and fury” threats.
But his role as Republican Party advocate goes beyond blandly conveying the Trump line.
Pence has made a personal project of going after Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative-leaning West Virginia Democrat seeking re-election in November. Pence claims, and Manchin denies, that the senator broke a promise to vote for the new tax law changes.
A new anti-Manchin ad features Pence also denouncing Manchin’s refusal to vote for “that wall that we’re gonna build on the southern border.”
Pence takes the required heat for Trump. In October he left a 49ers-Colts game in his home state of Indiana after about a dozen San Francisco players took a knee in protest during the national anthem.
Pence sat silent in the pews of a church in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., last month when the Rev. Maurice Watson criticized Trump’s use of the phrase “shithole countries” to describe African nations.
The vice president is seasoned. He served as Indiana governor and congressman before the 2016 election.
Last week, his brother Greg Pence announced a run for Congress and he’s getting money and campaign help from the national GOP while talking up the Trump-Pence agenda.
Greg Pence displayed a blunt Midwestern style when quoted in The New Yorker last fall as saying his younger brother had acted in an immature manner earlier in his political career.
“Mike burned a lot of bridges,” the older Pence said. “He upset a lot of his backers.”
Nowadays, though, the veep’s control poses a sharp contrast to his boss. In the wake of the latest Oval Office firings, Pence said rather firmly: “There’s no tolerance in this White House and no place in America for domestic abuse.”
Pence also has a rare rule known all over the capital: He won’t dine alone with a woman other than his wife and shuns events with alcohol unless she’s present.
Also in contrast to Trump, Pence converses regularly with predecessors Biden and Dick Cheney.
For now, Pence’s regularity of conduct might mark his most distinctive trait.