Political experience, determination, respect in Congress. His vice-president, Mike Pence, brings what Donald Trump lacks. Politically, he is at least just as extreme.

While the new U.S. president tangles with the press, someone else is pulling the strings of the new American government in the background: Vice President Mike Pence. He could become one of the most powerful surrogates in U.S. history. With his 12 years in the House of Representatives and his four years as governor of Indiana, he possesses the political experience and the good contacts in the Republican Party and in Congress that Trump lacks.

In the election campaign, Pence held the Republicans together, many of whom initially rejected the populist billionaire from New York. He pulled the “Never Trump” faction into the boat again and convinced the important voter group of evangelical Christians of the “conversion” of thrice-married, former abortion supporter Trump. In the selection of cabinet members, too, Pence played a decisive role. The appointment of United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and CIA head Mike Pompeo are attributed to him.

Pence Could Become President

Without Pence, Trump would not have come as far. And without Pence, he would be a great deal more helpless as president.

Yet a vice president does not only bolster the president; he replaces him if he should leave office – like Gerald Ford, who relieved Richard Nixon after the Watergate Affair, and Lyndon B. Johnson, after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. By conventional standards (which have not applied to Trump thus far) a newly-elected president has seldom stood in as great a danger of facing impeachment so soon after entering office due to charges of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. There are enough reasons for actions against him: his further existing connections to his real estate empire and with that the danger of economic relationships and influence, lawsuits on account of his sexual assaults and not least of all due to Trump University that issued diplomas without qualification.

Protectionist and Reactionary

If it should come to a successful impeachment, Trump’s vice president would automatically become president. “Mike Pence is Donald Trump’s best bodyguard,” quipped a demonstrator Saturday at the Women’s March in San Francisco.* With that she meant that no one will assassinate Trump because, in her view, his vice president is even worse.

Who is this Pence whom the world only knows as a mild and smiling diplomat, and whom many Americans fear?

Anyone who does not live in the U.S. presumably first became acquainted with the 57-year-old in the TV vice-presidential debate last fall. There, Pence presented himself as one in Europe imagines a representative of the most powerful man in the White House: perhaps somewhat colorless, but level-headed and diplomatic. He had an occasional smile for his Democratic opponent, Tim Kaine.

Pence attempted to relativize and check Trump’s positions. As a result, he diverted attention away from questions about his own positions, which are at least as protectionist and reactionary as Trump’s ideas – and at the same time distinctly more determined.

Against Homosexuals and Abortion

Pence’s voting behavior is well documented, and it shows a clear agenda: He advocated for a series of laws that cut women, homosexuals, AIDS patients and the poor off from fundamental rights. What failed in Congress, he implemented in his state of Indiana.

Although he often likes to present himself as the voice of the little people – Pence grew up in a small town in Indiana – he voted in Congress against raising the minimum wage above $5.14 as well as against better health care and rent assistance for poor families.

Pence once labeled himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican – in that order,” and thus justifies his hard-line agenda. He introduced an amendment in Congress forbidding same-sex marriages, voted against two laws that were meant to protect gays from discrimination in the workplace and called for concealing homosexuality in the military (the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy). In 2015, he signed a nationally controversial “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” allowing businesspeople in Indiana to not serve gay and lesbian customers.

Cutbacks for Family Planning Centers

In addition, Pence tried to forbid women in his state to abort a fetus because of severe handicaps; the Supreme Court blocked the law. Likewise, a bill he introduced that was supposed to cut funding for Planned Parenthood failed. The bill made it through Congress, but a federal judge blocked it as unconstitutional.

As governor of Indiana, however, Pence implemented the cuts in his state. Five clinics had to close although none of them offered abortions, which only account for 3 percent of treatments at Planned Parenthood nationwide.

In his candidacy for Congress in 2000, Pence advocated for using money for so-called conversion therapies that are supposed to “heal” homosexuals instead of using the money to treat AIDS patients. The World Medical Association strictly rejects these procedures because they could lead to depression or suicide and because homosexuality is not an illness.

Eerie Déjà-Vu

Just like Trump on Trump’s television show, Pence learned how to win viewers for himself with pithy sayings as a radio host and later as a TV moderator. He labeled climate change a “myth” in his online column accompanying his Mike Pence Show. He called a doctor who assisted in the suicide of an AIDS patient a “monster.”

Politico recently brought recordings of the show from the '90s to light. Whoever watches Pence today in the process, the way he declares how white Christians in the U.S. are being “persecuted” and how he vents about this with male callers, or how the first female Air Force pilot should be punished for adultery, experiences an eerie déjà-vu: Pence back then already sounded like Trump today.

Yet when Pence ran for Congress in 1988 and 1990, he was still unelectable for the Republicans with his conspiracy theories and his uncouth criticism of government. That now, he of all people has become a king-maker for Trump and Trump’s influential vice president because he seemed more moderate than the new incumbent, shows how far to the right the Republicans have moved.

*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quote could not be independently verified.