John Nance Garner, one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice presidents, famously compared the office of Vice President to “a bucket of warm piss.” For Pence, the vice presidency,”is a bucket of Clorox and a mop,” per the Washington Post. Pence has survived so far because he got the message early on when he was selected by GOP powers-that-be (read “mega-donors”) to be on the ticket, that he had to be cool and present the country with an image of Republican stability; and moreover, to not only clean up Trump’s messes but make Trump believe that he was actually in control.
Be that as it may, things have taken a turn in just the past few weeks. Mike Pence may have been riding shotgun in the wildest ride of any presidency to date, but with the money from his political action committee funding campaign-like appearances all over the country this summer (not to mention paying the legal bills for KremlinGate, a nuisance that Pence prays is only temporary insofar as he himself is concerned,) Mike Pence is prepared to take the wheel from Donald Trump right now. Tim Alberta has a profile of Mike Pence in Politico Magazine which is well worth the read:
…Pence enjoys singular leverage as a liaison between Trump World—which is heavily populated by social liberals and establishment Republicans—and the conservatives who can vote as a bloc to derail the president’s agenda. “Bannon tried to bark orders at us. Priebus is a nervous nelly who doesn’t want to lose proximity to the president because he thinks he’s going to lose his job. His family members have no street cred with conservatives. And none of us trusts Gary Cohn,” one Freedom Caucus member tells me. “So we look around for someone we can trust, and Mike is the go-to guy.”
It wasn’t until months after our brush with disaster at LaGuardia that a senior campaign official told me what Trump’s job description of the vice presidency had been. “He told Pence he wanted ‘the most consequential vice president ever,’” the source recalled of their meeting. “Those were his words.”It is Pence whom Trump calls on first during almost every meeting. It is Pence whose opinion Trump solicits before every big decision. It is Pence who has emerged as the essential supporting actor in Trump’s presidency. And it is Pence who says the very least about it.“Think about this,” a senior administration aide tells me. “The president likes people who don’t showboat, who don’t call attention to themselves. And the president loves killers—he loves people who get things done.” A long pause. “Mike Pence is the quiet killer in this White House. And Trump loves him for it.”
Jim Chanos, the billionaire hedge fund manager known for predicting the collapse of companies like Enron, believes that the financial markets are already factoring in the possibility that President Trump won’t make it through his first term.
“I think they’re beginning to factor it [Pence] in, that’s for sure,” Chanos told Axios on Thursday, at the SALT Conference at Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel. “The markets are hoping for Vice President Pence to become President… a more stable person being able to enact a Republican.
Market theory: Chanos thinks stocks are unnaturally stable amid unrelenting White House chaos and dysfunction, because investors see an alternate path to getting business-friendly legislation like tax reform. “The odds-makers have Trump even money to last his term,” Chanos said. “If the perception was that Trump was going to be staying there I think at this point [the markets] might be worse.”
Caveats: Chanos is big Democratic Party fundraiser who shorted Trump’s companies in the past, although he did not support Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. It’s also worth noting that the markets tanked yesterday, when the prospect of a President Pence hit its peak (so far).
The Axios article was less than a month ago and Mike Pence took a big step towards his push to be president by forming a political action committee, also last month. He’s been entertaining the big wigs in the GOP and don’t think that Charles and David Koch are too far out of the picture.
The president’s precarious situation, coupled with Pence’s recent burst of political activity—in May he formed a new PAC, the Great America Committee; his summer calendar is littered with campaign swings on behalf of prominent lawmakers; he has been hosting intimate dinners with key activists and donors; and there are discussions underway about reengaging with his old friends Charles and David Koch—might produce a perception that becomes unmanageable for the vice president’s team. Republicans on Capitol Hill already operate as though Pence sits atop the party, and some have recently begun gossiping with a surprising lack of discretion about their expectation that the 71-year-old Trump will decline to seek reelection in 2020. What little buzz about President Pence exists in the GOP has less to do with impeachment than it does with speculation that Trump might simply tire of the White House and hand the reins to his deputy.
It’s highly unlikely that Trump is simply going to “tire of the White House,” because power is seldom if ever relinquished voluntarily and usually has to be taken. Pence is apparently preparing for that eventuality, first by humoring Donald Trump that he’s really in charge and pretending that he is not ready to usurp Trump at the first word from the GOP megadonors who run the party, a word that they will unquestionably give once Trump has irrevocably compromised himself — a scenario which may in fact be unfolding right now.
Mike Pence has scheduled his summer with a series of campaign style rallies in Iowa and other battleground states, and that’s not coincidental. He is looking to cement his image as the face of the GOP and he is positioning himself to be ready for transition at the first sign of the finish of the Trump presidency. He wants to be president and has always wanted it — and he just might get it.
But with every new investigative drip that damages Trump, with every utterance of the I-word, with every self-immolating tweet and, at the very least, with every passing day of this presidency, the GOP will more and more look to Pence as next in line—a reality that his friends privately acknowledge they have begun to reckon with, and one that the vice president can’t afford to ignore.“He doesn’t know when his time will be—it could be seven-and-a-half years, it could be seven-and-a-half months,” another West Wing official says of Pence. “But he had better be ready.”
The main obstacle between Mike Pence and his overweaned ambition is of course his own relationship with Russia and members of the transition team, notably Jared Kushner, whose ties with Russia surfaced recently. Pence plays Washington outsider, a gambit that he apparently believes will keep him safe and above the fray of KremlinGate. That’s his biggest gamble right now and it’s doubtful that it’s going to work out that well for him. On the other hand, Trump is becoming progressively unhinged. His tweet storm this morning was more unhinged that usual, per The Washington Post:
On Friday morning, the tweetstorm continued. He declared, “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.” In a spasm of anger — or is it panic? — he insisted, “After 7 months of investigations & committee hearings about my ‘collusion with the Russians,’ nobody has been able to show any proof. Sad!”
Trump likely will become more unhinged as headlines dog him day after day, a parade of witnesses troop in to talk to the special counsel and the investigation metastasizes. First we had collusion allegations, then obstruction allegations and now reportedly financial crimes allegedly committed by multiple individuals, including Jared Kushner. We don’t know whether these activities, not the purported collusion with the Russians during the campaign, were the source of Trump — and Kushner’s — angst about letting Comey proceed with his investigation. At any rate, the noose will tighten, especially as the prosecutorial team demands financial records that Trump has so far concealed from view. If ordered to comply with document subpoenas, will he comply as Richard Nixon was obliged to do after the Supreme Court’s ruling on the tapes — or will he defy the order of one of those so-called judges and finally take his ball and stomp off for good?
Maybe Mike Pence and the GOP mega donors are right and Pence is ready to go up from his understudy position and play the lead. Or maybe now the odds are even money, which is still better odds for Pence than existed a few weeks ago. Pence retained high priced GOP scandal lawyer Richard Cullen yesterday and perhaps Pence and Cullen can preserve Mike Pence’s dreams of the presidency, Russian ties be damned. If not, then the glass slipper will go to Paul Ryan. As Paul Harvey used to say, “And the rest of the story…..”