• 20:42
  • 16.08.2017
We should all be afraid if the Mike Pence 2020 presidential chatter is true

We should all be afraid if the Mike Pence 2020 presidential chatter is true

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Mike Pence should brush up on his Hamlet. Sometimes silence – or yawning indifference – works better than bat-shit outrage in the face of unwelcome impugning. Far wiser not to protest too much.

There are two unforgivable sins for a vice president, one often leading to the other. Thou shalt not evince even the slightest disloyalty to the boss or – worse still – be seen to be manoeuvring to take his place in the Oval Office. Indulge in either dance at your peril.

The no-daylight-between-us rule is not new. Just before the 2008 election, Barack Obama hit the roof when his running mate, Joe Biden, mused aloud if he had what it would take to manage a major international crisis. “Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy,” he said. A rift was opened that took weeks to heal. 
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In Trumpworld, only iron-clad, even over-egged, claims of fealty satisfy the boss. We saw this at that bizarre cabinet meeting in June when Trump went around the table asking everyone to pay him gushing tribute. Pence went first. “The greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to a president who’s keeping his word to the American people,” he fawned.

Pence needed not hold back. Shortly before, and just after, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, he had created a political action committee for himself, The Great America Committee, to raise funds and build relationships with GOP donors. For a serving veep to take such a step so soon in a nascent administration was unheard of and startling. “No Vice President in modern history had their own PAC less than six months into the President’s first term. Hmmmm,” tweeted Roger Stone, the pro-Trump operative and dark lord of Washington intrigue.

In other ways, Pence has not been treading as carefully as he might. It perhaps wasn’t entirely smart to accept an invitation to headline Senator Jodi Ernst’s annual pig roast in Iowa earlier this summer. Iowa, you notice, a state to which any politician with presidential ambitions must travel. Far as I know, he hasn’t been to New Hampshire lately, but I dare say it won’t be long. 
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Then came last weekend’s The New York Times report that Pence is among a handful of Republicans already positioning themselves to make a grab for the brass ring in 2020 should Trump not seek a second term. It was pretty specific, for instance, naming two aides in his office who, it purported, have been openly chatting to party folk about Pence for President. Others said to be similarly preoccupied are Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, as well as John Kasich, Governor of Ohio and standard-bearer of the anti-Trump movement within the party.

Pence went over-board bonkers, calling the article, “disgraceful and offensive to me, my family and our entire team”. Its allegations, he went on, “are categorically false and represent just the latest attempt by the media to divide this administration. Whatever fake news may come our way, my entire team will continue to focus all our efforts to advance the President’s agenda and see him re-elected in 2020. Any suggestion otherwise is both laughable and absurd”.

Is that so? Not grasping that so ferocious a reaction would only deepen the perception that the scenario as depicted looks entirely believable seems like a lapse on the part of Pence. But who is really the dumb party here? Maybe not Pence either, because he wasn’t speaking to us. His eruption of wounded indignation was meant for an audience of one: Trump. 
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Pence is in a predicament. Keeping Number One sweet remains paramount. The natural order of things are clear: a veep does not pine for the presidency until well into a second term. Yet, he can be forgiven for allowing his mind to wander. Even if Trump completes his first term, it isn’t unthinkable that he might balk at running for a second. If his numbers are awful come 2019, he may conclude that it will be out of his reach. Or he may just have had a enough by then. Trump Tower and the golf links will suddenly have irresistible appeal.

All of which means other minds have been wandering too. President Mike Pence. Most Republicans would expect him to remain faithful to much of the Trump agenda but without all the attending drama and distraction. That could work. Yet precisely because Pence is so tightly bound to Trump, he may not be the best person for the top of their ticket come 2020, especially if, by then, the Donald has exited with a whimper or been forced out by the tarnish of scandal.

Democrats are torn too. Any scenario that involves the humiliation of Trump would offer short-term gratification, but, in the longer term, the thought of a disciplined version of Trump in the Oval Office gives them the chills. Not only would he be likely to honour most of Trump’s American First priorities, for instance on immigration and trade, any doubt about the social conservatism of the commander-in-chief would be removed. As Governor of Indiana, he liked to say that he was a “Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order”, and he meant it.

But the man himself is telling us to relax. There will be no Pence-for-Prez campaign until 2024. Honestly. To which we may want to borrow from Roger Stone. Hmmm.
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