The White House has long stood as the home of the president, and every head honcho since John Adams has resided in it. That being said, the White House is no stranger to the strange — from Lyndon B. Johnson’s enthusiasm for his own Johnson to Calvin Coolidge’s penchant for slathering his head with petroleum jelly.
But does this track record hold up to the US leaders of today? Donald Trump is reportedly a massive fan of McDonald’s and KFC, due to his longtime fear of being poisoned. If you shift this spotlight toward his second in command, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Second Lady Karen Pence, we think you’ll find that they follow suit.
To give a taste for Mike’s particular flavor, let’s take a trip down memory lane to simpler times: When Mike was a conservative radio show host, to which he was self-described as “Rush Limbaugh on Decaf.” That being said, he also has what may very well be the hottest take on Disney’s Mulan than any other US politician to date. In 1999, Mike penned an op-ed on a website for his radio talk show (via BuzzFeed News), in which he claimed that “some mischievous liberal at Disney assumes that Mulan‘s story will cause a quiet change in the next generation’s attitude about women in combat.” If the vice president thinks that Disney is liberal propaganda (of all things), let’s see how this strange attitude is prevalent in his marriage.
Hey, Mother, what's for dinner?
Having pet names for your significant other is by no means strange. Well, at least the concept of it isn’t strange — unless you’re Mike Pence. In a pre “covfefe” era when Donald Trump was still a reality TV star and Pence was the Governor of Indiana, he held a dinner to smooth out his relationship with some democratic leaders. Rolling Stone reported that Governor Pence had a poor reputation with the democratic minority in his legislature, and was recommended to invite them to dinner by one of his staff.
While this may have seemed like a good idea at the time, we doubt the staffer whose idea it was could have possibly predicted how cringeworthy the evening would become. Pence was no conversational Magellan, as the legislator who was seated next to him reportedly could not get him to converse beyond his own talking points. Looking past Pence’s inability for banter, the dinner was anything but smooth. To make matters even more uncomfortable, halfway through dinner, Pence reportedly called out to his wife across a table set for 20 (with seven in attendance), “Mother, Mother, who prepared our meal this evening?”
We honestly wish that we could chalk this off as a one-time Freudian slip, but… it wasn’t. Amid the bewildered looks being shot across the table, Pence supposedly belted out, “Mother, Mother, whose china are we eating on?” As for Karen Pence? She replied with the history of their china. Oh, mother… oops, brother!
Mike Pence is faithful to an extreme
Being a faithful partner is essential to any successful relationship, and perhaps even more so when occupying a public office. After all, infidelity in the White House can easily be unearthed with even the most rudimentary Google search — need we remind anyone of former President Bill Clinton’s infamous Monica Lewinsky scandal? Or looking to more recent events, such as President Trump’s alleged affair with Stormy Daniels.
Given the attention to these philanderous officials, it certainly makes sense for politicians to distance themselves from such scrutiny. As for Mike Pence? He takes this idea to a whole other level. According to an interview he had with The Hill (via The Atlantic), Pence won’t even eat a meal alone with another woman. The vice president even goes as far as to refuse any female aides when working late — only requesting the same gender. Within devout evangelical circles, this is known as the “Billy Graham Rule,” but the vice president’s critics “connected these views to Pence’s stance on LGBT issues.”
Of course, Pence’s personal policy led to widespread backlash and a Twitter feeding frenzy with the criticism being that it’s, well, blatantly sexist. One staff member from The Daily Show summed up the public’s general consensus, tweeting (via People): “It’s ok, Mike Pence. No one wants to be alone with you either.”
Mike Pence and alcohol don't mix without Karen Pence
Abstaining from alcohol due to religious beliefs is a common concept among many groups of Muslims or evangelical Christians — and Mike Pence is no different. After all, roughly 30 percent of Americans don’t even drink … though it may be worth mentioning that 10 percent of them drink the equivalent of 12 six-packs of beer a week. Not that weird, right?
Pence, on the other hand, pushes this idea to the extreme, revealing to The Hill in 2002 (via The Washington Post) “that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without [his wife] by his side.” You heard that right, without his sobriety shepherd, Karen Pence, don’t expect to be graced with the vice president at your next shindig.
According to The New Yorker, the reasoning behind this likely ties into the “Billy Graham Rule,” which is meant as a way to avoid any temptations at the cost of painting all women as home-wrecking seductresses. To say that these beliefs are a bit dated is, well, an understatement. In fact, the attitude is eerily similar to that of the Anti-Saloon League. The ASL was a religious group that spearheaded the prohibition movement by any means necessary, including teaming up with the Ku Klux Klan. While Pence may not resort to such extreme measures as the ASL, they seem to share the belief that alcohol has something of an intrinsic connection to sinful behavior. As it stands, the Pences are a package deal.
Who doesn't want shellacked bread after a proposal?
Marriage proposals can be a great way to show how well you know your partner and can be one of the most significant romantic milestones in a person’s life. Not everyone can be so lucky to have three opportunities with three different wives, such as President Donald Trump, or so unlucky as to propose three times to the same lover, like Denzel Washington.
Arguably the key to any successful proposal is the surprise of finding the ring, but as an evangelical Christian, it would be out of character for Mike Pence to order champagne at a restaurant and slip a ring into the glass. That being said, the future vice president wasn’t dining out when he proposed to Karen Pence, née Batten. According to The Washington Post, Mike “hollowed out two loaves of bread, placing a small bottle of champagne in one and [a] ring box in the other.” They then proceeded to “[feed] the ducks at a local canal,” where his wife-to-be found the ring unsuspectingly.
Thankfully, the ring made it into Karen’s hands and not the canal. As for the bread? They reportedly shellacked the loaf as a keepsake afterward. We have to award some points for originality on this one.
Despite being quite religious, this is Karen Pence's second marriage
According to the American Psychological Association, “In Western cultures, more than 90 percent of people marry by age 50.” This statistic in the US sees a steady decline with the marriage rate among adults at an all-time low. This may be due to the fact that nearly 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce.
While Mike Pence may not be a contributor to the country’s divorce rate, his wife surprisingly is. Per The Washington Post, Karen Pence (then Karen Batten) met her first husband, Steve Whitaker, in high school, whom she married at the tender age of 21. At the time, Karen was a Catholic — a religion where divorce has long been frowned upon in most cases. According to The New York Times, “Many Catholics hesitate because they wonder themselves how to reconcile divorce with their own loyalty to Catholicism’s teachings.”
That being said, if the church grants an annulment, you’re free to marry again — which is exactly what Karen did. In fact, her split from her first beau appears to have been mutually beneficial. The Washington Post reached out to her ex-husband, who said, “We were kids. We probably didn’t necessarily know what we were doing.” Who doesn’t make mistakes when they’re young?
Karen Pence is one of Mike Pence's top advisors
We’re all familiar with the old adage that “behind every successful man is a woman.” This rings true for Mike Pence as much as anyone else. As Brian Howey, publisher of Howey Politics Indiana, told The Washington Post, “I would characterize [Karen Pence] as the silent, omnipresent partner. You knew she was there, you knew there was some considerable influence she wielded, but, boy, she was not public about it.”
Considering Karen was once an elementary school art teacher, one could assume she may not be the most well-versed in politics. Appropriately, she told IndyStar, “I don’t ever get involved in policy.” Going on, Karen explained, “I don’t weigh in on that. It is not my role.” That being said, get used to seeing her at Mike’s side at any possible moment. From events and rallies to Mike’s overseas trips in office, Karen is almost always there — possibly holding a tray of cookies (via The Washington Post).
The “prayer warrior,” as Pence pals affectionately call her, Karen’s importance is even recognized by Donald Trump himself. As the story goes, “when Trump called to offer Mike Pence the No. 2 slot, the businessman knew Karen Pence was by his side,” immediately asking to speak to her, as well. While on the record she may claim not to dabble in policy, Karen seems to have the ear of the vice president more than anyone else — and sometimes the president himself, too.
Mike Pence and Batman have something in common
While Mike Pence was serving as a member of the House of Representatives in Washington D.C., he received a gift from his wife that many spouses can only dream of: a second phone to which only she had the number. When you think of a hotline to the vice president of the United States, you might think of a doomsday scenario, but in the case of Mike Pence, it’s more of a marital aid.
According to The Washington Post, the Pence-only line was an antique red phone — a stark contrast to our tech-centric age where only 10 percent of phone numbers in America are landlines. As it turns out, this antique gem was Karen Pence’s Christmas present to her husband, “a reminder, both physical and symbolic, of the direct and enduring connection” between the two. As time has passed and society has moved through a decade of different iPhones, Mike’s Batphone is still prominently displayed on his desk at his statehouse office.
Odd but endearing, while we don’t expect Mike to be getting any late-night phone calls from the police commissioner (à la Batman), we think Adam West would approve.
The Pences are a lot more low-key than the Trumps
Being a political leader comes with a great deal of stress, and that stress needs to be balanced with some relaxation. President Donald Trump is no stranger to downtime, as he frequents golf courses nearly twice as much as former President Barack Obama, with a whopping 266 days spent at his own golf courses (as of May 2020). And we’re not even counting all the time he spends at the extravagant Mar-a-Lago.
While Mike Pence may join President Trump for a few rounds of golf and has called him “a very good golfer” (via CNN), he does not follow suit when it comes to enjoying some time off. As he explained to The Hill in 2009, “My whole approach to my career has been to vote right and go home for dinner.” If you’re wondering what’s on the menu, Karen Pence has the answer: “If it’s Friday night, we’d better be having pizza for dinner,” she once told a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference (via Town & Country), adding, “Supreme, thin crust with an O’Doul’s.”
At the end of the day, a Christian man with strong family values has always been how the Pence patriarch presents himself. If the opportunity arises and the vice president has some horsepower, Mike takes after his political idol and Western film icon Ronald Reagan. When The Hill asked what his favorite hobby was, Pence boldly replied, “Horseback riding, end of discussion.” Does he take Karen to that, too?
Mike and Karen Pence may be close… but their towels stay separate
Have you ever gotten out of the shower, confused as to which towel is yours? Or have you seen a family member use your own personal towel, leaving you to sit in a silent smoldering rage? If your answer to either of these questions is “No,” then Karen Pence’s towel charm business is not for you.
Karen has pioneered a solution to a problem that has allegedly plagued her time and time again with her business venture, “That’s My Towel!” Still a bit confused? Who could blame you! As the second lady wrote on her now-defunct website (via Vogue), “I have had so many times where I was swimming at a friend’s beach house, pool, or lake house, using their matching beautiful beach towels. Lo and behold, I would go in the water for a dip or up to the house for a beverage, and when I came back to my towel, it was gone!” Jarring, we know.
The charms are exactly what you might think, or as Vogue so succinctly puts it, “Picture one of those wine-glass name tags on a metal ring and you’ve pretty much got it.” Unfortunately for Karen, the business didn’t exactly hit off, and according to Mike Pence’s 2016 tax information (via Twitter), it actually lost over $3,000 the previous year. At the end of the day, it seems to be a strange 21st-century response to the monogrammed handkerchief, no?
Mike Pence begged his school for Karen Pence's number
It was the start of a blossoming romance truly befitting Mike and Karen Pence’s strong religious values. According to IndyStar, the first place the couple met was at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, where during the mass, Karen was strumming her guitar, while Mike Pence was among the rest of the parishioners. He chatted her up, discovering that he went to law school with her sister. Unable to summon the courage to ask for Karen’s number, the future vice president decided his next best option would be to go to his school’s registrar office to get the phone number of Karen’s sister and get “the scoop” on the musician.
Mike’s persistence paid off, and after explaining the situation to the registrar, he somehow got the number. Mustering up the courage to ask someone on a date affects everyone — even a future vice president. Mike made the call, and surprisingly it was Karen who answered the phone. Spooking himself upon recognizing her voice, he hung up. After shaking off his nerves, Mike tried again. They eventually met for a taco salad dinner date, followed by some ice skating with Karen’s niece and nephew.
Call it coincidence or fate, but Karen’s 10-year-old niece actually bet Mike $1 that he and Karen would get married… which in hindsight was a good bet. Mike and Karen tied the knot the following year in June 1985 — and yes, even the registrar was in attendance.
Karen Pence accepted her husband's proposal in a unique way
After their romantic first date of taco salad and ice skating, Mike and Karen Pence’s relationship seemed to be going well. According to the IndyStar, It made perfect sense; after all, Karen had said that they “seemed to have everything in common.”
Things were going so well, in fact, that after just eight months of dating, the future Mrs. Pence was already planning for marriage. While she wasn’t flipping through bridal catalogs or buying a dress quite yet, Karen instead purchased a gold cross with the word “Yes” engraved and “slipped it into her purse to give him when he popped the question” (via The Washington Post).
Typically only one person in an engagement buys a piece of jewelry, but if history tells us anything, it’s that the Pences have a bit of an odd marriage. As it turned out, Karen didn’t have to hold on to her cross for too long, as just a month later, Mike popped the question — and she had her response written in gold. To this day, Mike still has the cross that his wife gave to him, although he doesn’t wear it. As Karen told IndyStar, “He’s afraid he’s going to lose it.”
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