As many have noted, Trump seems thoroughly disinterested in even performing the basics of the job as President since the midterm shellacking by Democrats. Reports are that he has become even more isolated and angry, perhaps driven by having to finally confront a reality different from his own version of it.
Trump’s anger may be fueled by worry about what will happen to himself and his family now that Democrats have subpoena power in the Senate. In addition, it is clear that the Mueller investigation is closing in, perhaps more imminently on Don Jr. than Trump himself right now, but closing in nonetheless. So too are the other investigations into the apparent fraud at the Trump Foundation and the conspiracy to silence women before the election that are currently being pursued in New York, with the latter probably making his domestic life more difficult.
Moreover, the protection racket that Trump has surrounded himself with over the years has taken some enormous hits. Michael Cohen has left the fold and is apparently singing, as are principals with the National Enquirer. Manafort my still be resolute, but Gates, who probably knows everything Manafort knew, is talking. Roger Stone’s operation is increasingly under pressure and there are signs that some in that camp are beginning to fold. There even seems to be a small but growing concern within the Federalist Society that Trump’s shredding of the rule of law has gone too far.
As bad as all that is, there are little hints that the power players in the Republican party may be thinking they have gotten as much out of Trump as they could get. The legislative agenda is dead. They got massacred in the suburbs and only picked up a maximum of two Senate seats in what was one of most friendly maps in history in last week’s midterms. The next two years portend investigations in multiple areas that will expose massive corruption not only with Trump and his family personally as well within his administration but also with various businesses that have been beneficiaries of that corruption. Those businesses are significant sectors of the party’s donor class.
Additionally, the conservative wing of the party, which is now about all that’s left, may be happy with the last two years of accomplishment but it has never really trusted Trump. With the Democrats now having power in the House, there is a genuine fear that Trump will compromise with the Democrats and squeeze the Republicans in the Senate in order to get a legislative win for himself for 2020. That was surely compounded by Trump’s abandonment of House Republicans before the election and his willingness to consider an infrastructure plan after it.
The party doesn’t need Trump to continue to eliminate regulation and pack the courts with Federalist Society hacks, which is probably about all that can be accomplished in the next two years unless Trump capitulates to Democrats. In fact, there is already someone itching to take that role.
Even in just the few days since the midterms, Mike Pence is using Trump’s disengagement to become a far more forceful figure than we’ve seen before. The Vice President has been actively meeting foreign leaders over the last two years but he is now taking that role to a higher level. Pence will be filling in for Trump at both the APEC, ASEAN, and East Asia summits in Asia, the three most important meetings for that region. Pence made the most forceful statement to date from a US official condemning the state-sanctioned violence against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar directly to Aung San Suu Kyi. I doubt that is something we would have heard from Trump, considering his infatuation with authoritarian regimes and inherent racism.
Pence has often strayed off the Trump reservation in order to advance his own interests but has always managed to stay in Trump’s good graces. It is an open secret that Pence and his team have expressed the desire to be prepared for the 2020 election in case Trump did not survive and it appears that Pence has set up his own political operation to prepare for that potentiality. There are some who are already talking like that is a possibility. Jan Brewer, former Arizona governor, recently talked about Pence saying, “We really, really appreciate him leading our party in that respect. His mission is maybe a little bit different than the president, and he is not under attack 24/7 like the president is.” That sounds remarkably like an endorsement.
Back in early September, there was an anonymous op-ed in the NY Times that declared there were people within the Trump administration that were working to “thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations”. At least some in the White House believed that the source of that op-ed was the Vice President’s office. Now the latest rumor is that Chief of Staff John Kelly is once again headed out the door and one of the most mentioned replacements is none other than Pence’s current Chief of Staff, Nick Ayers.
With Trump seemingly focused on simply surviving and reportedly also suffering from serious mental deterioration, it appears that Pence will more and more become the de-facto, behind the scenes leader of this administration. And if things deteriorate so badly that Republicans actually turn on Trump and impeach him, Pence will then be well-prepared to take over in a relatively smooth transition. Unfortunately, the country will have only swapped and autocrat for a theocrat.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.