Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is throwing out a lifeline to Vice President-elect Mike Pence in the hope that he can help bridge the divide between Congress and President-elect Donald Trump.
McConnell on Wednesday heaped praise on Trump's choice of Pence as a running mate, and predicted the affable Indiana governor could serve as a critical link – and possible buffer – between Capitol Hill and "The Donald's" new White House.
"We all really like Mike Pence, if you ask any of us who served with him [in Congress] … we all thought he was a great choice," McConnell said.
Trump's shocking success at the polls Tuesday was fueled in part by his willingness to bash Washington and GOP leaders' inaction in Congress. So it's only natural that he and top GOP leaders would begin their governing relationship with lingering tensions.
But Wednesday, McConnell suggested that Pence could expand the traditional roles of the vice president of presiding over the Senate and breaking tie votes, to also serve as a much-needed conduit between Trump and Congressional GOP leadership.
"I would just mention the way Vice President Dick Cheney worked with us – he was at many of our Tuesday lunches – and, you know, Dick Cheney was that classic guy who didn't necessarily say anything all the time but he was like a sponge, absorbing our concerns," he said.
"He acted almost like President [George W.] Bush's Senate liaison … and I hope [Pence] will attend our Tuesday policy lunches when he's in town, and I hope he will be our Senate liaison between the president and the Senate much like Vice President Cheney was," McConnell said.
That praise for Pence echoed in conservative circles throughout Washington Wednesday, as right-wing stalwarts sung his praises after having openly called out Trump for some of his more liberal tendencies.
Throughout the GOP primary, conservatives have pointed out that Trump is a former Democrat, and have openly sparred with him over his positions on trade, immigration, entitlement reform and offensive comments about women.
Pence, however, is the polar opposite. A former conservative talk show host, the former Indiana congressman has never shied away from his evangelical Christian beliefs that undergird his pro-life, socially conservative stances.
"I think Pence will be one of the most consequential vice presidents in history," declared Brent Bozell, a ardent pro-life activist who for years ran a mainstream media-monitoring group and now heads ForAmerica, a grassroots conservative nonprofit.
"Mike is going to be the person" who helps Trump navigate the ways of Washington, Bozell said. "And the beautiful thing, from our perspective, is that he's going to have Trump's agenda."
Brent noted that conservatives readily embraced President Ronald Reagan's Washington outsider campaign only to experience some initial buyers remorse when Reagan decided to tap James Baker, who had served in President Gerald Ford's administration, as his chief of staff.
"Jim Baker and company were put in charge of working Washington and he had a different agenda than Ronald Reagan, and that became a problem for conservatives," Bozell recalled. "But Mike Pence is completely different."
David McIntosh, the president of the Club for Growth, which promotes lower taxes, free trade and supply-side economic policies, said he and others on his board started seeing Trump as far more palatable once he tapped Pence to share the GOP ticket.
"To say that the Club for growth has had its differences with Donald Trump in the past, is to state the obvious," McIntosh said during a press conference Wednesday. "We never hesitated to praise his pro-growth positions…and we applauded his selection of Mike Pence."
The selection of Pence, he said, was the first step in closing the trust gap with conservatives all stripes in Washington.
"I think the role Mike Pence will play will actually be similar to what we saw him play as vice presidential candidate Mike Pence – he put definition around Trump's vision," he said. "Going forward, picking conservatives for his cabinet positions would solidify that support," he said.
McIntosh acknowledged that the massive Trans Pacific Partnership that President Obama negotiated and the Club for Growth promoted is on life support after both candidates for president opposed it throughout the campaign.
Instead of trying to revitalize the deal, McIntosh, a fellow Hoosier and former member of Congress from Indiana, said he hopes Pence will help persuade Trump to negotiate a bilateral trade agreement with Great Britain directly after the Brexit vote, and continue to revive the agreements made in the TPP deal by negotiating separate, bilateral trade deals with each of the countries involved.
McIntosh also held out hope that Pence would be able to convince Trump to branch out from bashing NAFTA, and other multi-lateral trade deals, even if it means far more work and one-on-one negotiations with each nation.
"Mike would explain how free-market economics and putting conservative justices on the Supreme Court, and an agenda that is truly small government and pro-freedom will make America great again," McIntosh said. "And he will be there a steady, faithful partner to Donald Trump, bringing his experience as a House member and a governor."