Speaking on the record of Donald Trump’s ill-advised comments, Mike Pence said, “I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them.” Pence wasn’t speaking of Trump’s recent attempt to publicly recruit China in his quest for dirt on Joe Biden. This quote comes from 2016, shortly after a digital recording emerged, where Trump famously spoke of grabbing women “by the pussy,” and other nefarious admissions Trump made to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush.
The revelation of the recording became the story of the hour, a story that was thought by everyone but Trump as spelling his doom as a presidential candidate. An emergency meeting was convened at Trump tower. The feeling in the room was one of inevitable ruin, and that the Trump candidacy was over. Republican donors and party leaders began talking of making Mike Pence the nominee instead, and possibly drafting Condoleezza Rice as his running mate. It was Reince Priebus’ opinion that because of the recording Trump would lose the presidency by a landslide and that Trump should drop out. The good news, according to Priebus, was that Pence was “ready to step in.”
What no one in the room understood at the time was Trump had no intention of winning. His plan was to burnish his brand with a failed presidential run, and use that failure to create the myth of Trump as the martyr for democracy, the maverick who would be king, the second Jesus who, this time, would be crucified by the crooked Washington swamp. It wasn’t the good of America or even the party Trump was running for, it was the good of Donald Trump. So Pence stood no chance as a replacement.
What a difference a presidential race can make! Trump had to settle for being president after all. But the twofold lesson of the Access Hollywood recording was never forgotten. The first lesson was Trump was impervious to scandal. True or not, Trump believed it. The second lesson was Trump could never again fully trust Mike Pence. That mistrust has not been forgotten.
But forget everything they have ever uttered about Donald Trump, there probably isn’t a single Republican congressman or senator on the Hill who isn’t heartily sick of the guy. Carrying water for Donald Trump is hard work, and the daily, wearying exigency of having to carefully craft a rationale for Trump’s latest boneheaded tweet or utterance is becoming, for them, soul-destroying.
Mike Pence is actually well-respected on the Hill, far more than Donald Trump is. His policies are, of course, appalling, and the real threat is that he has an actual chance of implementing some of those policies should he step into the presidential shoes in the wake of a Trump resignation. In that eventuality Pence would become the president Spiro Agnew never had the chance to be when Nixon resigned, only without the mouth. Like Agnew was, Pence is evil, but Pence is evil wrapped in vanilla, a milquetoast of malevolence, a Darth Vader in an evening dress.
Just as Trump wouldn’t step aside for Pence in the wake of the Access Hollywood scandal, he’s not likely to do it in the wake of this one either. Instead of a resignation, look for a rally. Trump’s ego will need refueling and his favorite pitstop, the place he always turns to, is inevitably one of his Nuremberg-variety rallies. I do not believe Donald Trump will ever resign. He didn’t want to be president, but now he has a taste for it. And like any narcissist addicted to power, the world’s biggest ego-boosting job will be almost impossible for him to relinquish.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.