Disarray and disorder attend every day of the Trump presidency and each day gets incrementally a bit worse than the day before. The uncertainty and chaos is too much for many Republicans who now are rather openly going about the business of mounting a shadow campaign for 2020 as if Donald Trump wasn’t even in the picture — and perhaps he won’t be. New York Times:
In the wider world of conservative Trump opponents, William Kristol, editor at large of The Weekly Standard, said he had begun informal conversations about creating a “Committee Not to Renominate the President.”
“We need to take one shot at liberating the Republican Party from Trump, and conservatism from Trumpism,” Mr. Kristol said.
It may get worse, said Jay Bergman, an Illinois petroleum executive and a leading Republican donor. Grievous setbacks in the midterm elections of 2018 could bolster challengers in the party.
“If the Republicans have lost a lot of seats in the Congress and they blame Trump for it, then there are going to be people who emerge who are political opportunists,” Mr. Bergman said.
No discussion of political opportunists would be complete without mentioning poster child Mike Pence. Pence has been characterized as acting, "like a second term vice president hoping to clear the field rather than a No. 2 sworn in a little over six months ago." Since February Pence has been the keynote speaker at at least eight Republican events, according to the New York Times, he's attending fundraisers for politically active groups, including his own newly formed group, the Great American PAC, and he hosted four fundraising events in June and July and numerous private gatherings at his residence in Washington, D.C. The once dignified Naval Observatory has become the fundraising hub of the GOP. New York Times:
Mr. Pence has been the pacesetter. Though it is customary for vice presidents to keep a full political calendar, he has gone a step further, creating an independent power base, cementing his status as Mr. Trump’s heir apparent and promoting himself as the main conduit between the Republican donor class and the administration.
The vice president created his own political fund-raising committee, Great America Committee, shrugging off warnings from some high-profile Republicans that it would create speculation about his intentions. The group, set up with help from Jack Oliver, a former fund-raiser for George W. Bush, has overshadowed Mr. Trump’s own primary outside political group, America First Action, even raising more in disclosed donations.
Mr. Pence also installed Nick Ayers, a sharp-elbowed political operative, as his new chief of staff last month — a striking departure from vice presidents’ long history of elevating a government veteran to be their top staff member. Mr. Ayers had worked on many campaigns but never in the federal government.
Pence is in theory the Good Republican sweeping up after the GOP elephant that is Donald Trump as it crashes its way through Washington D.C. day by day, wreaking political havoc. However, despite what is said overtly about where Mike Pence stands, not so covertly there are plenty of Republicans who declare their wishes for Pence to become officially the face of the GOP:
Some in the party’s establishment wing are remarkably open about their wish that Mr. Pence would be the Republican standard-bearer in 2020, Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania said.
“For some, it is for ideological reasons, and for others it is for stylistic reasons,” Mr. Dent said, complaining of the “exhausting” amount of “instability, chaos and dysfunction” surrounding Mr. Trump.
Mr. Pence has made no overt efforts to separate himself from the beleaguered president. He has kept up his relentless public praise and even in private is careful to bow to the president.
Mr. Pence’s aides, however, have been less restrained in private, according to two people briefed on the conversations. In a June meeting with Al Hubbard, an Indiana Republican who was a top economic official in Mr. Bush’s White House, an aide to the vice president, Marty Obst, said that they wanted to be prepared to run in case there was an opening in 2020 and that Mr. Pence would need Mr. Hubbard’s help, according to a Republican briefed on the meeting. Reached on the phone, Mr. Hubbard declined to comment.
Mr. Ayers has signaled to multiple major Republican donors that Mr. Pence wants to be ready.
Mr. Obst denied that he and Mr. Ayers had made any private insinuations and called suggestions that the vice president was positioning himself for 2020 “beyond ridiculous.”
Mike Pence does more in any given week to schmooze with the Republican hierarchy than Donald Trump ever did during his entire campaign. These actions do not go unnoticed or unrecorded, no matter what protestations of innocence and denial of motive Pence’s aides may give:
For his part, Mr. Pence is methodically establishing his own identity and bestowing personal touches on people who could pay dividends in the future. He not only spoke in June at one of the most important yearly events for Iowa Republicans, Senator Joni Ernst’s pig roast, but he also held a separate, more intimate gathering for donors afterward.
The vice president has also turned his residence at the Naval Observatory into a hub for relationship building. In June, he opened the mansion to social conservative activists like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and representatives of the billionaire kingmakers Charles G. and David H. Koch.
At large gatherings for contributors, Mr. Pence keeps a chair free at each table so he can work his way around the room. At smaller events for some of the party’s biggest donors, he lays on the charm. Last month, Mr. Pence hosted the Kentucky coal barons Kelly and Joe Craft, along with the University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach, John Calipari, for a dinner a few hours after Ms. Craft appeared before the Senate for her hearing as nominee to become ambassador to Canada.
Other Republicans eyeing the White House have taken note.
“They see him moving around, having big donors at the house for dinner,” said Charles R. Black Jr., a veteran of Republican presidential politics. “And they’ve got to try to keep up.”
Mike Pence is by no means the only Republican in the not so shadowy shadow campaign who speaks out vociferously against Donald Trump. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) is one of Trump’s staunchest critics. Sasse has introduced himself to political donors in language which is highly suggestive, describing himself as an, “independent-minded conservative who happens to caucus with Republicans in the Senate.” Sasse’s advisors, have discussed creating an advocacy group to help promote his agenda nationally. Sasse claims to not be an “establishment Republican” and he flat out said as much in his Facebook post of February 28, 2016 that, and also that he could not support Donald Trump. Here’s an excerpt:
AN OPEN LETTER TO TRUMP SUPPORTERS
To my friends supporting Donald Trump:
The Trump coalition is broad and complicated, but I believe many Trump fans are well-meaning. I have spoken at length with many of you, both inside and outside Nebraska. You are rightly worried about our national direction. You ache about a crony-capitalist leadership class that is not urgent about tackling our crises. You are right to be angry.
I’m as frustrated and saddened as you are about what’s happening to our country. But I cannot support Donald Trump.
Please understand: I’m not an establishment Republican, and I will never support Hillary Clinton. I’m a movement conservative who was elected over the objections of the GOP establishment. My current answer for who I would support in a hypothetical matchup between Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton is: Neither of them. I sincerely hope we select one of the other GOP candidates, but if Donald Trump ends up as the GOP nominee, conservatives will need to find a third option.
Mr. Trump’s relentless focus is on dividing Americans, and on tearing down rather than building back up this glorious nation. Much like President Obama, he displays essentially no understanding of the fact that, in the American system, we have a constitutional system of checks and balances, with three separate but co-equal branches of government. And the task of public officials is to be public “servants.” The law is king, and the people are boss. But have you noticed how Mr. Trump uses the word “Reign” – like he thinks he’s running for King? It’s creepy, actually. Nebraskans are not looking for a king. We yearn instead for the recovery of a Constitutional Republic.
“The law is king and the people are boss,” is not a precept that falls too harshly upon the ears of any true American, regardless of party affiliation. Maybe Sasse is the harbinger of a new kind of Republican or a new kind of Independent who caucuses with Republicans as he avows. Be that as it may, one thing is quite clear. Republicans, whether elected officials, donors, or strategists are tired of trying to legislate on the side of a mountain that is rumbling and spewing lava routinely. The instability of the Trump White House is unnerving and contingency plans to dump Trump and evacuate are being made. Anybody who says otherwise is either lying or simply not paying attention. Grey emeritus Senator John McCain understates it: “They see weakness in this president. Look, it’s not a nice business we’re in.”