On National Coming Out Day last month, New Yorker Glen Pannell stood outside the Big Gay Ice Cream shop in Manhattan, collecting donations for the nonprofit Trevor Project and getting a lot of double-takes from passersby.
Maybe it was because of his outfit — a conservative sportcoat and tie paired with barely-there skintight hot pants. Or maybe it was his striking resemblance to silver-haired Indiana conservative and current Vice President Mike Pence — a resemblance that the liberal Pannell has come to embrace as a way to raise money for LGBTQ-friendly causes while subtly trolling the real vice president.
“I always say my mission is raising money, raising awareness, and raising Mike Pence’s blood pressure,” said Pannell — who goes by the name Mike Hot-Pence while in costume.
Since the 2016 election, his upbeat one-man fundraising campaign has collected as much as $50,000 in donations for the Trevor Project, the ACLU, Anytown for Gun Safety, Planned Parenthood and other causes. But his enthusiasm didn’t develop overnight.
The whole Hot-Pence character started as a Halloween costume, a week before the 2016 election.
“I saw all of the options for women, which are sexy cheerleader, and sexy flight attendant, and, you know, sexy calculator,” Pannell said. “And I thought, how about sexy Mike Pence?”
The costume was a hit, but a week later when Pence and Donald Trump won the White House, Pannell stopped laughing. He was inconsolable.
“I just totally got the wind knocked out of me. I did not expect it at all. And it wasn’t just a question of waking up the next morning and thinking, How could this be my president? It was waking up the next morning and thinking, How could this be my country?”
He worried for LGBTQ rights, for abortion rights, for environmental protections in his community. Eventually Pannell realized he possessed a unique tool to respond: his DNA. So he took to Times Square, raising money for the most anti-Pence cause he could think of: Planned Parenthood.
“My playbook was easy to put together, because I just looked at his playbook and did the opposite,” Pannell said.
As 2020 nears and with House impeachment efforts underway, the stakes are changing for Pence and consequently for Hot-Pence as well.
“I’m not ready to be a presidential impersonator,” Pannell said. “The thought of a Pence presidency terrifies me, and it should terrify anybody.”
Monika McDermott, a Fordham University professor and researcher who focuses on voting behavior, agrees that, for Democrats and progressives, a Pence presidency is “their worst nightmare.”
McDermott said that conservatives “would be in heaven, especially if they still controlled the Senate.” Pence would be easy for Republicans to rally around if the Democrats take out Trump, she said.
Like Trump, Pence’s track record shows support for pro-business policies, reducing environmental protections and favoring conservative judges. But unlike the current president, Pence eschews governance-by-tweet and prefers to work behind the scenes. He’s also more supportive than the president when it comes to American involvement in foreign conflicts. And he’s aggressively favored religious rights over LGBTQ and abortion rights.
“I think it would energize the Republican base. The Democratic base, it’s going to be hard to generate the kind of opposition and thrill of defeat that I think Democrats are counting on at this point," McDermott said.
A president Pence might also help unify a Republican party that’s been fractured ever since Trump came onto the scene, all the while enjoying the same huge cash advantage the GOP currently has over Democrats ahead of 2020.
McDermott considers the impeachment push to be short-sighted on the part of Congressional Democrats.
“I don’t think they realize what putting Pence in the White House as head of the Oval Office actually means to them for the 2020 election and for governing into the future.”
As for Pannell, he (and Hot-Pence) cannot wait for the vice president’s final days in D.C., even though he feeds off the recognition he gets from liberals and conservatives alike.
“Trump supporters come up and talk to me,” he said. “Some of them come up and say, 'What you’re doing is funny.' Some of them have actually contributed. Some of them yell at me.
“It disappoints me now when I go out and collect for two or three hours and no one has screamed in my face.”
Pannell said the impending New York winter won’t deter him, either.
“I’ll put on gloves and earmuffs," he said. People have suggested tights, but that would be a risky move for a guy named Hot-Pence.
"That's too off-brand, so I can't," Pannell said.