NASA HQ PHOTO / Flickr mike pence...

Vice President Mike Pence’s frantic efforts to distance himself from the White House tire fire are quite a thing to watch. He’s got to protect his future ambitions—the odds are good that Trump won’t be around in 2020, after all—while still swearing up and down to President Tire Fire that he’s not doing that, he would never dream of doing that, because if Donald Trump found out he was doing that he would flip his no-that’s-not-a-wig.

Pence, who just replaced his own loyal chief of staff with top-tier Republican campaign operative Nick Ayers, is caught in a bind even while attempting to extract himself from a bind. He can’t say Ayers is there to run his future campaign, because Trump wouldn’t ever let him back in the building. He can’t say Ayers is there to protect him from Capt’n Tire Fire, because ditto. And he can’t plausibly claim Ayers is just there to help him run the vice president’s office because Ayers has no experience in such a thing.

So well-known campaign strategy guru Nick Ayers has been hired, according to everyone else in the office, just because, ya know, insert vague reason here.

Ayers’ hire, according to interviews with eight current and former administration officials, was less about a secret campaign to challenge Trump in 2020 and more about helping the vice president — who, at just 58, has a political future ahead of him in the post-Trump era — preserve his future political options, whatever they may be.

I wonder how long it will take for Donald Trump to catch on to Pence’s shadow team working on his behalf. He’s extremely sensitive to challengers—but he’s also really, really, really dumb. So Pence might be able to dodge Trump’s wrath for quite a while.

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