Jane Mayer is a staff writer for The New Yorker and author of several award-winning and best-selling books. Her latest, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, was named one of the 10 best books of the year by The New York Times. Her article “The Danger of President Pence” appears in the October 23 issue of The New Yorker. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Jon Wiener: Do you think that Mike Pence wants to be president?
Jane Mayer: There’s no doubt. The editor of the newspaper in his hometown told me, “Mike Pence popped out of his mother’s womb wanting to be president.” By the time he was in high school, he was telling his classmates that he wanted to be president of the United States. He’s hugely ambitious.
JW: But he’s never been really successful as a candidate or an elected official. He lost his first elections, he barely won the governor’s race. You say his tenure as governor nearly destroyed his political career. How do you explain his relatively weak performance as a candidate and as governor?
JM: Part of the problem is that his views are so extreme. One Republican in Indiana told me, “He scared a lot of people,” which is partly why he only got 49 percent of the vote when he ran for governor. He did serve a number of terms in Congress, of course, and he was rising in the leadership of the Republican Party in Congress, so he has some skills. In particular, he has a great gift for making extreme positions seem less threatening. It’s like the gift that Ronald Reagan had. He knows how to explain things in a way that makes him seem affable and likable, and you don’t really grasp the threat in some of the positions he’s taking.
JW: In an effort to understand Mike Pence, you interviewed more than 60 people for The New Yorker—including his mother. What is she like?
JM: His mom’s name is Nancy Pence-Fritsch. She remarried after Mr. Pence died. She was actually quite delightful, and I would say that, to the extent that Mike Pence has any charm, it probably comes from his mom. She’s a staunch Irish Catholic lady who was originally from Chicago, very proud of her roots, and moved to Indiana because of her husband’s job. She had a sense of humor. She was very proud of all of her sons. She’s got six kids.
JW: You quote Mike Pence’s mother telling you, “I was a Stepford wife.” What was she talking about?