The Sidekick’s Final Ride: Pence Makes One More Push for Trump

Photo: AFP via Getty Images

On the final day of campaigning before the election, Mike Pence is helping Donald Trump make up for the time on the trail lost to the pandemic that has killed more than 220,000 Americans during their administration. As the president hosts rallies in North Carolina and Wisconsin, the man who may not ever be president himself rallies in Pennsylvania and Michigan, a total of four rallies during a day that began with his arrival at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland at 10:21 am and that’s scheduled to end at 1:25 am on Election Day when he returns there.

As New York Magazine’s Washington correspondent, I’m traveling with the Vice President as part of the press pool, the term for the rotating group of reporters that travels with politicians and government leaders in order to provide information to the rest of the press corps to protect our access and ensure some level of transparency. As I write this on Air Force Two, where there is no WiFi available for reporters but there is WiFi available to non-reporters, Fox News is on all of the TVs despite an in-flight movie list that includes “Adventures of Dolly and Spanky,” “The Swan Princess,” and “The Tomorrow Man.” That last one stars John Lithgow as Ed, a man who, according to the description in the Special Air Missions program, “spends his life preparing for a disaster that may never come” while “Ronnie (Blythe Danner) spends her life shopping for things she may never use. In a small town somewhere in America these two people will try to find love while trying not to get lost in each other’s stuff.”

What follows are the reports as they were sent in real time to the White House and the press corps.

Hello from JBA where it’s quite windy and 43 degrees. Your pooler is unhappy, but COVID-free, after a test administered in the EEOB ahead of today’s travel.

The pool is told that Vice President Mike Pence is currently motorcading over to begin a long day of travel throughout Pennsylvania and Michigan. He will be joined by Second Lady Karen Pence and their daughter, Charlotte Pence Bond.

Several members of the VP’s staff aboard Air Force Two removed their masks upon taking their seats. As a reminder, in the last two weeks there has been a coronavirus outbreak among the VP’s inner circle. Asked if the VP tested negative for COVID-19 this morning, a member of the staff said she would “get back to you[r pooler] on that.”

The VP’s motorcade arrived to the tarmac at JBA at 10:21 am. Mrs. Pence exited from the driver’s side of the SUV along with Charlotte Pence Bond. Together they walked behind the SUV and met the VP when he exited from the passenger side.

Mrs. Pence is dressed in a black jacket, black pants, black leather boots with a low, brown block heel, a black hat that sort of looks like the hat Angelina Jolie wore in the movie “Changeling” (great movie) and a burgundy scarf. Charlotte Pence Bond is dressed in a pale grayish/taupe jacket, blue jeans, high knit socks, and flat brown leather boots. She carried a large black backpack slung over her right shoulder. Both women wore face masks.

The VP walked alongside his wife up the steps to AF2, clasping his dark navy suit jacket with his hand to keep it from blowing in the wind. He wore a shiny red tie, shiny dress shoes, and face mask. Charlotte Pence Bond walked a step behind.

At the top of the steps, the three Pences turned around and waved to the cameras. After waving, Mrs. Pence raised both fists in the air, a motion that seemed to convey joy (although it’s hard to discern emotion through face masks) at which point the VP patted her on the shoulder and kept his hand on her back as they walked inside.

According to the VP’s office, the VP tested negative this morning.

Also according to the VP’s office, “as a reminder our plane once on board is off record.” Having never heard of such a policy before, I wouldn’t call this a reminder, exactly. I assume the VP’s office is displeased that I noted several members of the VP’s staff had removed their face masks once seated on AF2 and would like to avoid any future unwelcome observations from your pooler, which I understand, though in practice this gets a bit confusing. What if they had redecorated the inside of the plane with fluffy pink seat coverings or something, would that be off the record? Or does this refer only to the behavior and conversations of officials aboard the plane? And if that’s the case, what if a conversation starts on the steps and continues while inside the plane? Is it half off the record? I’d also note that such a policy prevents me from making welcome observations, too. For instance, what if someone does something cool or nice? Surely no government would want that to be a state secret, right?

Anyhow, AF2 landed at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, PA and was still taxiing at 11:22 am. The VP is scheduled to deliver remarks at 11:30 am.

The pool is assembled in the press pen at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, PA. Vice President Pence popped out of Air Force Two and made the short walk to the stage after an introduction from Second Lady Karen Pence, who spoke as Charlotte Pence Bond looked on. The VP was met with cheers of “four more years!” He told the crowd “it’s one more day ‘til four more years!” which was received warmly. And that’s about the only thing warm here in Latrobe, where it’s 37 degrees. Attached are a few photos of the crowd, which is considerable given that it’s the middle of a workday and, as I mentioned, it’s freezing, but nowhere near the size of a crowd at a traditional MAGA rally with the president. The VP is scheduled to depart here at 12:50 pm en route to Erie, PA.

Photo: Olivia Nuzzi/New York Magazine

Additionally, the VP’s office requests that your pooler “note” that no one from the VP’s office expressed disapproval to me regarding a detail in VP pool report #1 concerning members of the VP’s staff removing their face masks aboard AF2. The VP’s office specifically requests, “please note in your next pool report you made that up.” However, your pooler reported that she “assumed” the “reminder” about the off the record policy she did not agree to was a response that detail being reported, not that it certainly was.

AF2 touched down at Erie International Airport/Tom Ridge Field at 1:35pm as scheduled after soaring over beautiful Lake Erie. It’s 41 degrees here, a slight improvement over Latrobe. Perhaps relatedly, the crowd also looks a bit bigger. At 1:49 pm, Second Lady Karen Pence and Charlotte Pence Bond took to the lectern. “My job today is to introduce my best friend,” Mrs. Pence said, before noting that even as a congressman, he always came home on Sunday “so we could worship together.” This prompted some applause and cheering.

Vice President Mike Pence began his journey to the stage at 1:52 pm, to the tune of some screeching audio feedback and Bad Company’s “All Right Now.” He’s wearing black gloves and standing before a teleprompter.

It’s 4:17 pm and Air Force Two is about to land in Traverse City, Michigan. From the window, you can see that the trees are bare and snow has dusted the ground. Vice President Pence is scheduled to deliver remarks at his third rally of the day, at the Cherry International Airport (or Cherry Capital Airport — it’s listed as both on the schedule provided to the pool), at 4:45 pm.

Although it’s suddenly November, the in-flight movie list in the back pocket of the blue seats on the plane is still from October. It includes “Adventures of Dolly and Spanky,” “The Swan Princess,” and “The Tomorrow Man.” That last one stars John Lithgow as Ed, a man who, according to the description in the Special Air Missions program, “spends his life preparing for a disaster that may never come.”

***As the VP defended POTUS’s handling of the pandemic onstage in Pennsylvania — where coronavirus cases are spiking as they are throughout much of the country — saying “Joe Biden got it wrong and President Trump got it right!” Trump tweeted, “Landing in Scranton, Pennsylvania!”

Pence told the crowd one of the “sweetest” things about his experience is how many Americans reach across the rope line to tell him they’re praying for him. He asked the crowd, if they’re so inclined, to “bow the head or bend the knee” to pray for them. “Pray for America,” he said. A man in the crowd shouted “PRO LIFE!” (The WiFi network here, in the grand tradition of trolling WiFi, is FilledTheSeat and the passcode is JusticeBarrett.)

The VP recalled Trump’s excitement on election night when the results from PA were in. He said he thought he might “knock me down.”

In closing, he said, “… With God’s help we will make America great again… again!”

The VP is scheduled to depart Erie en route to Traverse City, Michigan at 3:10pm.

Upon landing in Traverse City, where it’s a positively summery 46 degrees, the VP paused at the top of the steps on Air Force Two along with Second Lady Karen Pence and Charlotte Pence Bond to wave cheerfully as if departing on a cruise ship. Charlotte hesitated slightly before extending her arm to join her parents in the wave. The crowd was so far away it seems unlikely anyone could see them, but unlike at JBA this morning, at least there was a crowd somewhere nearby to receive the wave on a spiritual level if nothing else.

After a short motorcade ride, the VP arrived onstage after an introduction from Mrs. Pence. As the VP addresses the crowd — the largest of the day — the sun sets behind him, though its beauty is sometimes obscured, depending on your vantage point, by a large screen that reads “THE BEST IS YET TO COME! 2020.”

There was a momentary interruption to the VP’s speech when a plane hummed in the distance, sending heads turning away from the stage and to the sky. When it turned out to be any old airplane, not Air Force One, the VP remarked, “False alarm!”

Meanwhile, the WiFi trolling is creating some logistical problems for the staff. The campaign WiFi network here is “BidenBuiltTheCages” and the password is “TrumpBuiltTheWall!!!” Problem is, it doesn’t really work. When a staffer had to recite the WiFi to your pooler, she couldn’t help but laugh slightly.

Vice President Mike Pence exited the stage in Traverse City, Michigan a long time ago. I haven’t the vaguest idea where he is at the moment. And I’m not alone. Asked for his whereabouts, a member of the Vice President’s staff said he was probably sitting up by the podium, hidden in the sea of MAGA hats and signs that read “PEACEFUL PROTESTER.” The member of the staff contacted another member of the staff to double check. A few minutes later, a spokesman for the Vice President emailed me to say, “He’s watching POTUS remarks from off stage.”

Now that I’ve cleared that up, I can focus on more philosophical matters. As I sit here listening to the familiar vibrations of Donald Trump’s voice on this Election Eve, it occurs to me that this experience is one I must share with the VP. By which I mean existing with the president’s inescapable chatter, registering the changes to the president’s pitch and volume and the rhythm of his words, but not actively listening because I’ve heard it so many times before, only perking up when he makes a new sound of some kind or when he parrots an old one I haven’t heard in a while — as time passes, it becomes a kind of static. I wonder if the VP thought he’d spend so much of his life this way. If he’d have done it again knowing what he knows now. Or did he know all along? Was it worth it, if in the end, he doesn’t become president — the outcome every Vice President so desperately hopes for? These are some of the questions I’d ask Vice President Pence if he took any questions from the press pool today but so far, we’ve seen him only for a couple of wooden, monarchical waves.

The VP is scheduled to fly out of Cherry Capital Airport at 8:55 pm en route to his final rally of the day in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he’ll speak at 10:00 pm.

After President Trump exited the stage and the crowd began streaming out, a voice came over the speakers with an announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen: don’t leave yet! The Vice President will be doing a live interview with Martha MacCallum right by the stage!”

This news took the pool by surprise, since there had been no mention of such an interview or such a delay in the schedule. Asked earlier if the VP had any local media planned at any of today’s stops, a member of the staff said there were “a couple” interviews with local media planned. This is not that, obviously.

The crowd continued to leave after the announcement, though a small portion — not nearly enough people to fill half of one of the bleachers — appears to be sticking around. As Air Force One whizzed by for takeoff, they hooted and cheered.

The pool has not similarly been invited to observe the VP’s Fox News interview. Instead, we’re going to the vans. At least the vans are warm!

The VP‘s office sends along the following:

“The Vice President participated in the following regional interviews:

WOOD TV NBC affiliate in Grand Rapids 
WWTV CBS affiliate in Traverse City 
WPBN  NBC affiliate in Traverse City

The Vice President was scheduled to participate in a live remote interview with Martha MacCallum, but due to audio issues, the interview was canceled.”

After waiting in the press van while the aforementioned audio issues unfurled, the pool is now back on AF2 having dinner and waiting for takeoff. Every TV visible to your pooler is set to Fox News, where Tucker Carlson is currently interviewing Kirstie Alley, who does not have audio issues.

Second Lady Karen Pence and Charlotte Pence Bond came to the back of AF2 to speak to members of her staff. Mrs. Pence enthusiastically relayed something about what sounded like “Audrey” (the Pences have another daughter named Audrey) that your pooler couldn’t hear and that frankly is none of your pooler’s business anyway. Your pooler would rather not know! Mrs. Pence crouched down to speak while Charlotte Pence Bond, who wore a sweatshirt, stood next to her. At this closer vantage point, your pooler noticed that the sleeves on Mrs. Pence’s jacket are fluted, like little bells (but not full on bell sleeves).

AF2 landed at JBA around 2:50 am. VP Pence disembarked at 3:00 am. Polls begin to close in about 15 hours.

Additionally, I am dismayed to report that, after VP pool report #11, the Vice President’s office not only censored your pooler, but threatened to kick her off of AF2, stranding her in Grand Rapids. In order to avoid being ejected from the flight, your pooler agreed to not have an eye for detail or a personality for the rest of the night. But now, in the parking lot at JBA, I’m free! I hope you are, too. In the words of Bob Dylan: “without freedom of speech, I might be in the swamp.”

Have a lovely Election Day.

Sidekick’s Final Ride: Pence Makes One More Push for Trump