The New York Times is out with a bombshell story detailing how a) Vice President Mike Pence and his advisers are operating as a sort of de facto political unit within the White House and b) allies of President Donald Trump are none too happy about that fact.
Here’s the key paragraph of the piece:
“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.”
None of this should be all that surprising. Here’s why:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Regardless of whether he should have seen it coming, you can bet Trump won’t be happy to read the Times piece about Pence or, more accurately, to watch the cable news coverage about it. Trump doesn’t like when anyone one-ups him or shows loyalty to anyone or anything but him.
The Point: Politics abhors a vacuum. Trump’s lack of ties to the GOP campaign establishment and his seeming disinterest in anyone’s politics other than his own create an opening for Pence. The question is whether he can take advantage without seeming like he is taking advantage.
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