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The Odd Couple: While Trump Openly Cheated on Ex-Wife, Pence Called for Criminalizing Adultery

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Before he teamed up with Donald Trump, Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence had a history as a conservative talk radio host in which he often slammed officials caught in cheating scandals. We play an excerpt from his show and speak with Politico reporter Darren Samuelsohn, who reported on the show in his recent article, “The Old Cassettes That Explain Mike Pence.” We also speak with Jeff Sharlet, associate professor of literary journalism at Dartmouth and author of the book “C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re in Cleveland, Ohio, covering the Republican National Convention inside and out, from the streets to the convention floor. I’m Amy Goodman. We are broadcasting two hours a day from the Republican convention and next week, all through the week, from the Democratic convention in Philadelphia.

We’re continuing to talk about Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence. We look back now at his time as a radio show host before he was her elected to Congress. Here’s a sampling of one of Pence’s shows from 1997. Speaking in the wake of the Kelly Flinn scandal, Pence suggested there should be a law against adultery. Flinn was discharged from the U.S. Air Force following an affair with a married man and related military offenses.

MIKE PENCE: The problem here is that adultery is really an antiquated sin, if you will. It’s no longer in vogue in America. And therefore, Kelly Flinn, whether she be in the Air Force or not, ought not to be in any way censured, for all she did was be involved in an adulterous affair. I mean, you get a sense, whether it’s from columns that I’ve read in The New York Times, that called her behavior an offense of the heart, or elsewhere, you get this sense in the mainstream media. And the problem here was a discomfort with adultery. And does that trouble anybody else?

AMY GOODMAN: That recording of Mike Pence was uncovered by our next guest, Darren Samuelsohn, senior policy reporter for Politico. He just published an article headlined “The Old Cassettes That Explain Mike Pence.” Still with us, Jeff Sharlet, associate professor of literary journalism at Dartmouth, author of a number of books.

But let’s go back to Darren Samuelsohn. Tell us more about what you learned about Mike Pence, looking at these—listening to these old cassettes.

DARREN SAMUELSOHN: Well, it was a little bit of a flashback to the 1990s. There was no YouTube back then. We couldn’t go and find what Mike Pence said on his radio show, going to the internet or googling. We actually had to go to Indiana. I headed out there right after we got word that Mike Pence was going to be the VP, without any sense that I was going to find anything. But a lot of phone calls, a lot of shoe leather, a lot of pounding on doors ultimately uncovered a VHS tape. We had to go and watch it on an old VCR—that was not easy to do, to find—then turn that into a DVD, which you now see and just showed there on television. So that was a little bit of a transition of technology. Also uncovered an audio cassette tape from a show one year earlier, from 1996, the day after the Iowa caucus.

So, you get a little bit of a sense of what Mike Pence was like as a talk show host. And this was what he did throughout the 1990s. He had, as we talked about before, a couple of failed congressional runs in 1988 and 1990, running against Congressman Phil Sharp, a pretty popular Indiana Democrat. Those campaigns got very nasty. Mike Pence, during and after the 1988 race, actually started his radio career in a very, very small station just outside of Indianapolis in Rushville. It was a very local show called The Washington Update with Mike Pence and Sharon Disinger, who was a local Republican. They talked once a week about what was going on in Washington. Mike Pence ran again for Congress in 1990. That was the race where he lost and then apologized afterwards for being pretty negative. Mike Pence then spent about two, three years heading something called the Indiana Policy Review, which is a think tank, a conservative think tank, where he published a lot of articles.

And it was right around then, in 1993, when he started back up on The Mike Pence Show and became kind of a local celebrity, not a big celebrity that many people knew about outside of Indiana, but he was trying to sort of—in the voice of Rush Limbaugh sometimes, you know, in the Howard Stern era, when those guys were becoming very big, Mike Pence was doing that in Indiana. And he had a mix of state politicians. He had Evan Bayh and Dan Quayle and Frank O’Bannon on his show. A lot of Democrats saw it as a really good opportunity to talk to conservative listeners in Indiana. He had a lot of Republicans. And then he also talked basketball, he talked Hoosier basketball, he talked the Indianapolis 500. He talked about the state fair. He was a big fan of that. And so, you know, we found two clips that actually let us go back and see what Mike Pence was talking about. And you could definitely hear sort of that—a little bit of that Rush Limbaugh voice coming through, and definitely a cynicism for politics and government in Washington, and Republicans and Democrats alike. And I think that’s what you get out of these clips.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeff Sharlet, as you listen to Darren Samuelsohn, do you learn anything about the man you have been looking at, through these early tapes?

JEFF SHARLET: Oh, I think this reporting is invaluable. And hearing that voice back from that time, you’re getting this sort of unvarnished sense of the man right before he—you know, he gets savvier as time goes on, as he spends time in Washington. And, you know, talking about making adultery a crime, I suppose he is ready to prosecute his running mate. But that is in line, that, on the one hand, we hear that as incredibly extreme; on the other hand, it’s worth sort of understanding that as within the mainstream of a right-wing evangelical movement, that those are the ideas that are animating that base. He’s learned to sort of smooth down the rhetoric in the same way that his language about abortion and about LGBT rights has moved over the years. The ideas haven’t moved. You know, I would love to ask Mike Pence what his ideal response to adultery is today, and if it’s not still this idea of recognizing this as a grave public moral danger in the way that Pence and his circle see morality as the most serious public issue.

AMY GOODMAN: And I’d like to ask both of you, starting with Jeff Sharlet, what about his teaming up now with Donald Trump?

JEFF SHARLET: That is not surprising to me at all. And I think—I think there’s been a big misunderstanding about what Trump is and how evangelical—conservative evangelicals view politicians for a long time. There’s always this idea: “How can they tolerate this guy? He’s a hypocrite.” To which there’s a ready response, was—”And I’m a sinner.” That’s in the vernacular. But there’s also, especially in those elite evangelical circles, where you see guys like Christian right leader David Barton saying, “Trump wasn’t my first choice or my second choice, but I now realize that it seems that God has chosen him for this”—they don’t see him as a godly man; they see him, as David Barton, Christian right leader, says, as God’s man, as the tool that God is using. And there’s a long, long history of that. They love going through history and finding examples of leaders who were not exactly moral exemplars, who were used. And it’s a theological moment. It goes back—you hear evangelicals citing King David. Secular viewers forget that King David wasn’t always such a nice guy in the Bible, but he was God’s chosen man. So there’s a coalescing idea that somehow, obviously, God is doing something with Trump. It’s hard to quite understand what it is, but let’s, you know, let go and let God and get yourself on the ticket, so that you can be there to influence him in the right direction.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Darren Samuelsohn, this teaming up?

DARREN SAMUELSOHN: Yeah, one thing I was really amazed by as I was watching the 1997 episode, Mike Pence was kind of doing the Donald Trump shtick before Donald Trump. I mean, Donald Trump at this point in time was going on Letterman and really more of a celebrity. But back then, Mike Pence was sounding the sort of anti—or the populist anti-Washington flavor.

The other thing was, he was attacking the media for some of the very things that we’ve seen Donald Trump do as he’s run for president. The one thing that really jumped out at me, there’s this clip where Mike Pence is railing against The Indianapolis Star, the local newspaper, for its coverage of the Indianapolis 500 that was coming up that Memorial Day weekend. And one of the things that Mike Pence really harped on was the number of people that The Indianapolis Star said were going—were at the preliminary race events, the Carburetion Day, which is sort of the last race, practice race, before the event. I think The Indianapolis Star reported there were 15,000 people there. And Mike Pence incredulously was like, “Where did they get that number? How on Earth did they get that?” He had been there as a reporter with his own press pass, and he had said that he had seen several tens thousands more people. He was upset about a picture in the newspaper that day that showed an empty sausage and peppers steak stand. And Mike Pence was like, “I was there, and I saw a much larger line.” It’s the same kind of thing you heard early on in the Trump campaign, when he was railing against reporters for inaccurately reporting the size of the crowd. Only Mike Pence was doing this 20 years ago. And you hear it over and over as he kind of criticizes reporters and criticizes the mainstream media, something you heard Rush Limbaugh do a lot, obviously, in the 1990s, too.

But Mike Pence was doing this, you know, with a press pass around his neck on an Indiana radio station that was broadcast in a lot of very small towns. It really helped him, as I said in my story, you know, build the base and maintain that network of donors. People who supported his campaigns, I say, back in 1988 and 1990 were his biggest radio sponsors when he was on the air. These are local businessmen from Indiana. One, who is now actually the chairman of the Indiana Republican Party and is a close Pence ally, maintained support for him as he ran for Congress in 2000. So he really built a network. He was out there on the streets talking with his sponsors, meeting with affiliates. He was hosting, you know, salons with big names in Indiana. So he was really always courting a network for that run for Congress. And again, it just sort of shows that he was always thinking ahead to that political career that now has him on the ticket with Donald Trump. It’s quite amazing.

AMY GOODMAN: Darren Samuelsohn, I want to thank you for being with us, senior policy reporter for Politico. We’ll link to your piece, “The Old Cassettes That Explain Mike Pence.” And thank you to Jeff Sharlet, who is associate professor of literary journalism at Dartmouth, author of a number of books, including C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy. His most recent book, Radiant Truths. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: “Jumper” by Third Eye Blind, a song about a gay man who jumps off a bridge to commit suicide. The band performed the song at a benefit concert Tuesday night in Cleveland, and singer Stephan Jenkins drew boos from many who were in the audience, in the town for the RNC, when he introduced the song by talking about the need to bring people like, quote, “my cousins who are gay into the American fabric,” quote, and to, quote, “not live your life in fear and imposing that fear on other people.” Jenkins also asked the crowd to, quote, “raise your hand if you believe in science.”

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