Gage Skidmore / Flickr trump and pence...
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Mike Pence and Donald Trump are the political odd couple, with Pence selling the image of the conventional and even keeled  side-kick, who is unfortunately called upon to tend the self-inflicted wounds of the bombastic “hero” — the guy who’s playing the lead, in all events. Pence started playing the straight man while Trump wigged out during the campaign and that hasn’t stopped for a day. Pence exudes an attitude of serene confidence or willful oblivion, depending upon who’s looking. However, recent developments have shown that Mike Pence might not be so retiring and reactive to Donald Trump as people in Trump’s camp would have you believe. In fact there is every indication that Mike Pence is ready to dump Donald Trump at the right time and strike out for his own political future and is actively preparing for it, most notably with the creation of his political action committee on May 17 and the fact that he has made himself the center of Washington social life since taking office. Washington Post:

Pence’s activities seem to signal doubts about whether there will even be a Trump-Pence ticket to run in 2020. We are not yet six months into Trump’s term, and each new revelation in the burgeoning Russia investigation seems to heighten the possibility that Trump could either no longer be president, or at least no longer be a viable reelection candidate, in 2020.

Pence is perhaps preparing for just that potentiality. If he were confident that the Russia investigation is “fake news” or a “hoax,” as Trump has maintained, he would be hewing to the traditional vice-presidential path. Instead, he’s making his own plans — which may show just how worried he is that the Russia investigation is going to come crashing down on his president.

Mike Pence has made his Naval Observatory residence the hub of Washington, hosting dinners on a regular basis. Two people who have helped coordinate Pence’s glittering social life since taking office are Marty Obst and Nick Ayers, both top fundraisers and aides to Pence. Obst and Ayers were busy raising money under America First Policies, a non-profit which was started after the election to “further the White House agenda,” and which includes digital director Brad Parscale, who has been asked to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee with respect to the placement of Russian bots in campaign communications, advisor David Bossie and surrogate Katrina Pierson, in addition to Obst and Ayers.

Clearly, the America First mandate shifted in May from just supporting the White House agenda to supporting Mike Pence in particular. Pence, meanwhile, characterizes his fundraising combined with socializing activities as par for the course when being the new kid on the Washington block. While getting to know folks is incumbent upon a newcomer to inner Washington circles, Mike Pence has been raising money right and left and speculation is that he’s doing this to cement his own political foundation, quite apart from Donald Trump. New York Times:

In March Mr. Obst, who was a top fund-raiser for Mr. Trump’s campaign and inauguration, told Politico that America First Policies had received $25 million in commitments and had collected more than half that money. In recent weeks, America First Policies has spent money on one advertising campaign questioning the national security bona fides of the Democratic nominee in a special election for a Georgia congressional seat, and another chastising Senator Dean Heller, Republican of Nevada, for his opposition to the Senate health care bill that would supplant the Affordable Care Act.

While Mr. Ayers has stepped away from America First Policies and related groups in recent days as he prepares to take a position as Mr. Pence’s new chief of staff, the team behind the political groups is ramping up its efforts. In May, Mr. Obst and Mr. Ayers founded Great America Committee, a political action committee to fund Mr. Pence’s political operation — an unusual step for a sitting vice president. Typically, vice presidents rely on their respective party committees for such functions. This past Thursday Great America Committee held a reception for prospective donors at the Washington offices of the powerful lobbying firm BGR.

The timing of the PAC being formed is interesting as it happened on May 17. On May 8 Sally Yates testified before Congress and on May 9 Trump fired James Comey. On May 10 Trump met with Kislyak and Lavrov in the Oval Office telling them that firing Comey, whom he characterized as a “real nut job” had eased “great pressure” on him — or so he hoped. On May 11 Trump put his foot in his mouth, admitting to Lester Holt on national television that he had fired Comey because of the “Russia thing,” not as he was claiming, because Rosenstein made him do it. Finally, on May 12, Trump posted his tweet broadly hinting that he may have recorded his conversations with Comey. Five days later Mike Pence filed his papers with the Federal Election Commission marking “the first time a sitting vice president has formed such a separate political arm,” NBC News reported at the time.

Follow the money is an axiom always worth listening to, and one that explains Mike Pence’s recent actions. The obvious inference to be made from the filing of the paperwork to begin with, but particularly when it was filed, is that Mike Pence and the GOP mega donors who call the shots are taking no chances and if there is no 2020 Trump/Pence ticket, then it can reasonably be inferred on these facts that Mike Pence is ready to move out on his own and pursue a separate political career apart from Trump.  

Plus there is more than just the PAC; Mike Pence has noticeably been distancing himself from Trump lately. Axios reported recently on the “polite distance” that Pence is keeping from Trump:

The most awkward waiting game in Washington is being endured by Vice President Mike Pence, who can’t look like he’s distancing himself from his boss, but has to protect his own viability amid the chaos at 1600.

As part of navigating this volatile White House, look for Pence to spend even more time outside Washington, including an upcoming foreign trip. Traveling gives the V.P. physical and psychological distance from a West Wing where presidential aides privately speculate about a President Pence.

The dilemma is similar to that facing every White House #2 who wants a political future — but is more acute because of the swarm of investigations.”He needs to chart an independent course, with more distance from Trump,” says an ally of both leaders. “Not so much on issues — they’re well aligned on issues. He needs distance from the behavior and personal foibles — polite distance.”

Axios also says that coming August 1 fundraiser Nick Ayers will move into his new job as Pence chief of staff. They characterize Ayers as, “an elbows-out operative with a deep investment in protecting the Pence brand. Ayers will move up from Georgia to replace longtime Pence aide Josh Pitcock, who said he’ll “transition to the private sector.”‘The decision of Pitcock to leave after a dozen years with Pence and “elbows out Ayers” to come in is ostensibly the result of White House infighting and turmoil, a lot of it caused by the fact that many Pence aides flat out don’t like Trump and never have. McClatchy:

But during the presidential race, some of those who worked on the campaign said it was clear that some Pence aides did not like Trump, a brash businessman-turned-reality-TV-star who many rank-and-file Republicans opposed. After the election, some of those same aides had to be persuaded to work for Pence because it meant working for Trump.

In recent weeks, at least two of Pence’s mid-level aides appeared delighted that Trump found himself facing the unpredictable, back-to-back testimony of former FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to a second former adviser in contact with both the Trump and Pence staffs. “It doesn’t cause them any discomfort when the president gets bad news,” a former campaign official said.

Presidential running mates and their staffs often clash as the two groups jockey for power and autonomy. But, Republicans say, the situation has gone beyond the normal tensions

.“The administration doesn’t know who to trust,” Republican strategist Michael Steel said. “When you’re under attack the circle tightens.”

“Trump does something and Mike Pence has to do cleanup,” Republican strategist Doug Heye said. “That can be very frustrating for staff.”

In all events, despite the masquerade that Pence puts forth, it is clear that there has been some shake up in White House staffing, and it is also clear that Pence is pursuing his own agenda. Perhaps these matters are as benign and common place as Mike Pence would have us believe. It is also reasonable to infer that if Kremlin Gate is what knocks Trumpty Dumpty off of his wall that all the presidents horses and all the presidents men are not going to rush in to fix Trumpty, they’re going to leave him to his own self-orchestrated doom and move on to Plan B, which is President Pence. For many Republicans that has been the game plan all along.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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