Pence is furious about reports that he is considering undermining Donald Trump in 2020 by running for president himself. But there is ample evidence that his plans are well underway.
With unusual ferocity, Mike Pence is angrily pushing back on reports that he is setting up a shadow campaign to run for president. Yet ample evidence remains that, despite his vehement protests, Pence does indeed have his eye on his boss’s seat.
Pence’s press release and accompanying tweet came in response to a New York Times story describing efforts by Republicans who could take on Donald Trump in 2020, as Trump’s approval continues to plummet and his right-wing agenda stalls.
Pence called the story “disgraceful and offensive” to him, his family, and his political team, and described the reporting as “categorically false” and an attempt by the media “to divide this administration.”
He also called the story “fake news,” which is of course the Trump administration’s go-to phrase for any and all negative stories.
But what has Pence so steamed?
The Times — accurately — reported that Pence has been “the pacesetter” for setting up political organizing around the 2020 elections among Republicans. They noted that he has “gone a step further” than most vice presidents in the manner in which, less than six months into Trump’s term, he has established an “independent power base” by setting up a political action committee not connected to Trump’s reelection campaign, and which has outraised the PAC supporting Trump, America First Action.
The paper also reported that Pence hired “sharp-elbowed political operative” Nick Ayers as his chief of staff, “a striking departure” from vice presidents who have tended towards putting operatives with more experience in government in that position.
According to Times sources, Trump aide Marty Obst told others that Pence “wanted to be prepared to run in case there was an opening in 2020.”
Pence’s travel to key electoral states and courting of officials in those states — officials who would be beneficial to a presidential run — was also noted, as well as the fact that other Republicans who could be in the hunt in 2020, like Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, have been keeping tabs on Pence’s machinations.
Additional moves by Pence, like statements from his flacks trying desperately to distance himself from the Russia scandals enveloping Trump (despite his involvement), and his private courting of major GOP donors, make the stridency of his denials even more curious, and even harder to swallow.
Perhaps Pence doth protest too much. Because for someone who claims that he definitely isn’t plotting in the shadows, Pence is reacting just like someone caught in the act of doing exactly that.