We may never know precisely when he made the conclusion. But over the past ten days, Mike Pence’s words and actions have made clear that he expects to become president before much longer. He’s used the Michael Flynn fiasco to try to insulate himself from the Russia scandal. He’s aligned himself with the one cabinet member whom everyone respects. He’s even running his own foreign policy. Pence no longer expects Donald Trump to last. But Pence can also be taken down.
Take a close look at Mike Pence’s actions since the day Flynn resigned. He’s publicly insisting that Flynn lied to him, and he’s publicly demanding to know which of Donald Trump’s advisers made the decision to keep Flynn’s lies from him. In so doing, he’s casting doubt on everyone who’s loyal to Trump, and likely by design. Pence also used his speech in Germany to unveil his own aggressive policy toward Russia, which stands in stark contrast to Trump’s Russian lovefest. And Pence appears to be aligning himself with the Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, giving himself a key ally. All of these pieces fit together.
As I’ve previously pointed out, Pence isn’t even close to having the votes of enough cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove Trump from office. But with the Russia scandal reaching the point this week that even the Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee are now aggressively moving forward with the investigation, Pence appears to believe he can just bide his time until Trump is either impeached or resigns. And Pence may be right. But that’s just the beginning of the battle.
Here’s what Mike Pence is hoping for: Donald Trump is ousted in disgrace over the Russia scandal. Pence then becomes president after having already publicly positioned himself as a victim in the Russia scandal, and having already established himself as holding anti-Russia views. Pence probably even asks Congress to approve General Mattis as his new vice president. And then as the nation breathes a sigh of relief that the Trump nightmare is over, and ceases caring about politics, Pence quietly moves forward with whatever politely-spoken extremist conservative agenda he wants. But that last part is a fantasy.
Mike Pence might well become president, and he might get Mattis as his VP. But what Pence isn’t counting on is that the public activism of 2017 isn’t merely a rebellion against Trump’s crazed behavior, or the illegitimacy of the election. It’s a wholesale rejection of the social conservatism that Pence stands for. The Women’s March was about women’s rights and civil rights as much as it was an anti-Trump display. The town hall eruptions have been about preserving access to health care. Pence is decidedly on the wrong side of all of these issues. The activism won’t let up simply because Trump is out and Pence is in.
Worse for Mike Pence, it doesn’t take all that much to figure out that he knew far more about the Russia scandal than he’s letting on. He was a major player in the Trump campaign for five months before election day, and it’s a near certainty that he knew Trump’s advisers were colluding with Russia the entire time. And if the 2018 midterms hand one or both houses of Congress to the Democrats as expected, you’d better believe they’re going to spend the next two years getting to the bottom of whatever role “President Pence” played in the Russia scandal — while rejecting every bit of his extremist legislation.
So if Mike Pence wants to help nudge Donald Trump out of power so he can step into the White House instead, more power to him. He’ll be stepping into a political buzzsaw in the process. Pence will be tainted by the Russia scandal and the illegitimacy of the election results that put him into power, and the activism against his extremism will be just as fierce as ever. Trump is learning the hard way that being president isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Pence may soon get to learn the same harsh lesson. Contribute to Palmer Report
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Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report