It was the mildest of a predecessor's compliments: Joe Biden described Vice President Mike Pence as a "good boy".
And this is when the attacks began.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., One of the many 2020 Democratic candidates to respond to, told MSNBC that Pence is not "an honorable person". Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Said it is "ridiculous" and "outrageous" that he is not willing to meet privately with female staff, causing a flurry of rebuttals on Twitter by the main authorities of the female administration. And in a CNN town hall, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg was referring to Pence as "the cheerleader of the porn star presidency", wondering aloud if "he stopped believing in the Scriptures when he started to believe in Donald Trump" .
Pence found himself unconsciously at the center of the 2020 presidential debate, becoming a boxing punch for the Democrats and sometimes even some in his own party.
Always ready to defend Trump, Pence has drawn fervent opposition from a democratic base that opposes his socially conservative policies and his docile loyalty to the president. Some Republicans are increasingly transmitting their grievances about the president to Pence, which was part of the unsuccessful administration's efforts this week to prevent the GOP senators from breaking up with Trump at the time of the vote to reject his national emergency declaration at the southern border.
Yet, somehow, the public lowering of Pence is positive for all sides, including Pence himself. Assistants and allies of the vice president have an optimistic opinion, saying he offers new evidence of Pence's willingness to absorb the arrows for a president who awards a prize for loyalty.
On Friday, while Trump vetoed the Senate's disavowing denial of his national emergency declaration, the vice president again demonstrated his loyalty. "I don't know if I've ever been more proud to stand next to your desk than it is today," said Pence, saying that his boss was "keeping your word by banning this law".
Nick Ayers, former Pence chief of staff, said the vice president sometimes finds himself a political bullseye because he "works hard" to avoid taking credit for the work he does.
"When his advice is taken, we don't read it," Ayers said. "More importantly, when his advice is not taken, we do not read it: it is almost impossible to find a friend like that in Washington, but the president knows he has this in Mike Pence, but that also makes you an easy target."
Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist and frequent critic of Trump, offers a less flattering view, describing Pence as a "supplicant".
"Pence made the decision to have a person's constituency – Donald Trump," said Murphy. "And so he does not care about anything else, which on one hand is liberating, but if he is intelligent, he should also be terrifying because he hangs everything with the affection and loyalty of a madman."
Pence rarely responds directly to his critics. The White House sees uncritical criticism from Democrats as a political stance that turns voters off and helps Trump's re-election, according to two officials of the administration who requested anonymity to discuss the vice president's strategy .
Attacking Pence, however, plays well among the Democrats, especially those who try to differentiate themselves in a crowded field. Biden's modest praise of Pence, delivered during a speech at the University of Nebraska Omaha late last month, suffered an immediate backlash from actress and activist Cynthia Nixon, who blamed Biden on Twitter for calling "the leader elected most anti-LGBT of America ". & # 39; "
"Please consider how this falls in the ears of our community," he wrote.
Biden, who is considering a presidential race, responded by saying that Nixon was "right" and that "there is nothing decent in being anti-LGBTQ rights, and this includes the Vice President".
Pence, meanwhile, told Fox News that Biden had "given in to liberal activists" in apologizing for his original comments.
When their views on Pence were requested, other Democratic candidates took advantage of the opportunity to distance themselves from Biden, who is believed to be able to announce his candidacy for 2020 shortly.
Buttigieg, who is gay and an Indian companion, was the most aggressive in taking Pence, a former governor of the state. Buttigieg described Pence as the kind of Republican he should know better, but who is enabling Trump rather than using his influence to get him in.
In a telephone interview, Buttigieg said he had two theories about what he considers the evolution of Pence from a loyal Christian conservative to Trump's lick – or Pence "exchanged his sense of morality for power" he said, or the vice president "has somehow persuaded himself that this is consistent with some divine plan."
"The president does not really pretend that it is difficult to defend Christian values and so I think it makes sense when he does some of these outrageous things, that everyone is involved in the joke," said Buttigieg. But with Pence, he added, "you don't have the same meaning".
White House officials said Buttigieg and other Democrats are just trying to improve their profiles, sharpening their attacks on Pence, a strategy that they say is alienating millions of Christian voters. A senior official of the administration said that Buttigieg and Pence, while not agreeing on a number of issues, had a very good working relationship in Indiana and expressed Buttigieg's recent comments as purely political.
"The fact that it has more or less become a litmus test for the Democrats in 2020 essentially speaks of the fact that it has become the gold standard for what it means to be a conservative," said Pence spokeswoman Alyssa Farah.
Pence mainly feels compelled to publicly reject criticism when he believes that Christians or his faith are unfairly defamed, officials said. The vice president only tries to counter the attacks of democrats against himself when he believes that his resume or opinions are misrepresented, they added.
Pence's views on women have become an obsession for his critics. In 2002 Pence told Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife, Karen, and that he will not participate in events involving alcohol without her at his side. The Democrats said this practice discriminates against women in the workplace.
"The idea that you want to deny a professional woman the opportunity to have a meeting with the vice president of the United States is outrageous," Harris said Thursday on MSNBC.
Farah rejected Harris's accusation as a "false claim".
"He has elevated women to leadership positions throughout his career and relies on their advice and advice," he wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
While the assistants sometimes defend Pence publicly, the vice president has remained largely out of the fray and focused his energies on serving Trump, taking political attacks and talking to him again to focus on administration policies.
Last week, Pence told Republican senators that voting for the democratic resolution that disapproved of Trump's national emergency declaration would be considered a vote against the president and border security and probably would have consequences. Some wavers, like Sens. Thom Tillis, RN.C., and Cory Gardner, (R-Colo., Who are ready for re-election in 2020, eventually voted with the administration.) But 12 other Republicans have joined 47 Democrats for approve the resolution, forcing the president's first veto.
At the beginning of this month, another intra-party disagreement emerged when former Vice President Richard Cheney challenged Pence directly during a closed-door retreat on March 9 hosted by the Imerican Enterprise Institute on Sea Island, in Georgia, criticizing repeatedly in derogatory terms the account of the Trump administration's foreign policy.
Although the Sea Island event was presented as unofficial before the accounts leaked, Pence's private comments were similar to the solid defense of the president who often offers in public. That unwavering devotion to Trump may turn out to be slavish, even for some allies of the administration.
A Republican near the White House, who asked for anonymity to talk frankly, described Pence as "Mr. Bobblehead", an allusion to his frequent nodding pose beside Trump.
The synergy of the vice president with Trump has long provoked such a mockery. During a FEMA briefing in June, Pence silently grabbed a bottle of water from a conference table and placed it on the floor immediately after Trump, who was sitting next to him, did the same.
The video of the synchronized removal of the water bottle has become briefly viral. In an interview with Washington Post last year, Pence said he simply wanted to move the bottle of water out of view from the cameras and it happened to do so while Trump was also moving his water bottle from public view .
During another meeting last year in the White House Situation Chamber, Pence interrupted the proceedings when he noticed that the presidential seal was still hanging on the wall, two people familiar with the moment said. He asked an aide to remove the seal for respect to the president, who was not present.
A seal from the vice president was put in place, a White House official said, and the meeting continued.