by Jeffery Rendall
Chief among many reasons conservatives felt good about Donald Trump’s stunning victory in 2016 was the fact Mike Pence would be his vice president.
Instead of tapping someone with deep establishment connections within Washington circles Trump selected Indiana Gov. Pence as his running mate, a man who hadn’t even endorsed the eventual nominee in the lead-up to his state’s Republican primary (Pence went for Ted Cruz but said nice things about Trump too – it was almost akin to a split endorsement). Up until that point Pence was well-known to national conservative groups but was still a mystery to many of the rank-and-file party members across the country.
The mainstream media wondered, why Pence? He hailed from a conservative state Trump presumably would have little trouble winning; he’d been a congressman for a dozen years and had ascended to a leadership position yet was not considered a party poohbah in Congress. The humble Midwesterner was not even viewed as enough of a “team player” to merit establishment support – after all, he’d opposed George W. Bush’s big government Medicare Part D expansion…
Those darn limited government conservative principles of Mike Pence – they always get in the way of big business donors, don’t they?
So when Trump chose Pence many in the party scratched their chins and wondered what it would mean for the campaign against Hillary Clinton and beyond. Pence was considered a nice guy who probably wouldn’t do too much to get in Trump’s way, acting in the traditional role of running mate and then VP if elected. Sixteen months into Trump’s presidency, however, reports are surfacing that Pence is perhaps a little too involved with day-to-day matters.
Alexander Burns, Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times reported, “While Mr. Trump remains an overpowering personality in Republican politics, he is mostly uninterested in the mechanics of managing a political party. His team of advisers is riven with personal divisions, and the White House has not yet crafted a strategy for the midterms. So Mr. Trump’s supremely disciplined running mate has stepped into the void.
“Republican officials now see Mr. Pence as seeking to exercise expansive control over a political party ostensibly helmed by Mr. Trump, tending to his own allies and interests even when the president’s instincts lean in another direction. Even as he laces his public remarks with praise for the president, Mr. Pence and his influential chief of staff, Nick Ayers, are unsettling a group of Mr. Trump’s fierce loyalists who fear they are forging a separate power base.
“In addition to addressing dozens of party events in recent months, Mr. Pence has effectively made himself the frontman for America First Policies, an outside group set up to back Mr. Trump’s agenda. He has keynoted more than a dozen of its events this year, traveling under its banner to states including Iowa and New Hampshire. And Mr. Pence has worked insistently to shape Mr. Trump’s endorsements, prodding him in the contests for governor of Florida and speaker of the House, among others.”
Pence reportedly counseled against Trump’s intention to back Kevin McCarthy to replace the outgoing Paul Ryan for House speaker – an action that must have sent the GOP establishment into a tizzy. Pence suggested letting the House Republicans figure out their own new leadership matters internally – how groundbreaking!
In addition, according to the NYT’s reporters, news of the alleged tension between the Trump and Pence camps has apparently reached Capitol Hill! Imagine that, political operatives being skeptical of each other’s presence and motives. That could never happen – or at least not in a Democrat administration, right? Do you think Obama’s chosen political handlers ever suspected anyone in Joe Biden’s sphere were acting on their own guy’s behalf instead of the top man’s?
Let’s not forget Biden was a rival of Obama’s for the 2008 Democrat nomination – isn’t there automatic built-in “tension” there? What if Obama had invited Hillary Clinton’s political people into the circle as well – would they all hold hands and sing Kumbaya together? Heck no – they’d be whispering behind each other’s backs and spreading garbage in the media about how much “unity” there was in Democrat circles.
Common sense indicates Pence is doing precisely whatever Trump asks him to do. This particular “tension between the two camps” episode likely means the media is spreading falsehoods about Pence in the same way they do about discord among Trump’s staff – to discredit the work they’re all doing.
Besides, Pence has been visibly leading the president’s efforts to raise money for Republican candidates this year and traveling the country to promote GOP hopefuls ahead of the midterm elections. Pence’s team includes some very capable individuals and evidently the vice president has been intimately involved in advising Trump on numerous political matters.
In reading this smear-job on Pence I thought, what’s wrong with any of this? There’s absolutely zero evidence Pence is trying to upstage Trump; the whole notion of the soft-spoken “good guy” from Hoosier-land stealing the spotlight away from Trump is absolutely laughable. If it’s true that some in Trump’s orbit are wary of Pence’s ambitions, they must be way off base. What would Pence possibly hope to gain by undermining Trump’s ability to set policy direction?
In terms of recommending certain candidates or personnel for specific offices, should Pence instead just keep quiet and not say anything when he’s got personal knowledge of a good aspirant for Trump to endorse? It shouldn’t be forgotten Pence is the second in line in the country — an elected position – which, for lack of a better word, “trumps” any counsel from Trump’s semi-official political team. Who do these people think they are?
Should Pence be out moose hunting instead of sticking by Trump’s side in these days of momentous and consequential events?
Needless to say, as an outsider, Trump isn’t nearly as well-versed in GOP operations as Pence, a principled conservative who’s been on the “inside” for almost twenty years. Trump has excellent instincts for the part of the “job” (as president) that he enjoys, but here’s guessing the brash New Yorker appreciates having Pence around to hash over vexing party-business dilemmas.
Of course the media views all of this as Pence’s grand design while he’s laying the groundwork for a 2024 run. Referencing the New York Times piece, Chris Cillizza of CNN wrote the other day, “None of this should be all that surprising. Here’s why:
“[One] Pence, a former House member and governor, is very much a party guy — and as much as he might shy away from this title now — an establishment figure. Trump, who has been a Democrat, an independent and now a Republican, ran against and beat that establishment in 2016.
“[Two] Pence wants to be president when Trump is done, and that means he is spending at least part of his time as VP accruing chits from other pols for future use. Trump is already president. And he could care less about goodwill with other GOP politicians since most of those people backed someone other than him in 2016.
“[Three] Pence has surrounded himself with political/campaign people. Ayers managed former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s 2012 presidential campaign and also served as executive director of the Republican Governors Association. Pence’s communications director Jarrod Agen is another campaign veteran, having done work in California and Michigan — as well as serving as chief of staff to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Trump has no such political team in place, largely surrounding himself with longtime friends and a smattering of military generals. Kellyanne Conway, a senior counselor to Trump, is a veteran campaign hand — and also Pence’s former pollster.”
Sure, sure – it’s all in the family. Cillizza’s essentially touching on the often-disproved stereotype of Trump as a doltish and disinterested accidental president who doesn’t care about surrounding himself with top people to provide advice – because his ego won’t allow it. Trump’s already POTUS, a “cool” job to perfect a lifetime resume full of building yyyuuuugggeee projects and assembling a brand that made him a very, very, rich man.
As far as Pence now preparing to run for Trump’s job in 2024, why wouldn’t he? Pence is typically credited for creating the conservative direction of the Trump administration and is generally seen as the new de facto leader of the conservative movement. Having been vice president for eight years at that time (2024) – presumably after a successful presidency – Pence would occupy the pole position in any race to succeed Trump.
Six years from now is a long time and it’s hard enough handicapping even the 2020 contest at this point, but who else would be in a prime place to challenge Pence when the time comes? Ted Cruz comes to mind, but here’s guessing the coalition of GOP voters that elected Trump (a.k.a. the “deplorables”) would likely see Pence as their president’s heir apparent. Marco Rubio will probably be around too, though what advantage could “Little Marco” pitch over Trump’s vice president?
In other words, if Pence wants the job (of 2024 GOP presidential nominee) he can likely get it. Do you really think a two-term Trump would endorse someone else over his loyal righthand man?
Pence is also wisely looking to bring former Trump confidants into his own sphere. Earlier this week it was announced Pence hired none other than Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, to help with the 2020 effort. Katelyn Caralle reported at the Washington Examiner, “Corey Lewandowski, a political commentator and adviser who helped President Trump win the Republican nomination, will join Vice President Mike Pence’s team on the 2020 reelection trail.
“Lewandowski talked with Trump before accepting the position with Pence’s political action committee, sources familiar with the move told Fox News. An official announcement is expected soon.
“The Great America Committee is the first PAC of its kind to be created by a sitting vice president and will look to focus on getting Republicans elected to Congress in the midterms and Trump and Pence re-elected in 2020.”
There’s quite a bit at play here. Caralle’s brief report indicated Pence’s PAC would not be able to use its funds for a Pence 2020 run should Trump somehow decide he isn’t running (although he’s already announced that he is). So, if Pence is so hot after Trump’s job (as the media claims) why would he be going around the country speaking on the rubber chicken circuit to raise money for Republicans who couldn’t possibly do anything to help him in 2020?
Meanwhile, Lewandowski remains a controversial figure almost two years after Trump fired him (in favor of Paul Manafort in June of 2016). Lewandowski was not your typical political professional operative during the campaign and acted like it at times; he’s probably most notorious for being caught on tape grabbing Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields, preventing her from asking the candidate a question.
In his relatively short time at the helm, Lewandowski garnered a reputation as a combative amateur thug who had no business running a major party presidential candidate’s campaign. In the end Trump let Lewandowski down gently but it’s notable this far into the Trump presidency that Corey doesn’t have the cushy White House position he supposedly craved.
Under Pence’s purview one would think Lewandowski’s antics would be kept to a minimum. It’s certainly an odd combination that merits some scrutiny in the coming months. What happens to Lewandowski after this year’s midterms is anyone’s guess, but I doubt he’ll be given free rein to steal the glory and sell access for personal gain.
Donald Trump’s asking Mike Pence to be his running mate two years ago could be his best and most lasting decision, a pronouncement that continues to pay dividends to this day. Pence is the epitome of a loyal subordinate no matter what the media reports to the contrary.