Scrambling to deny the obvious, Mike Pence's team insists he's not positioning himself for 2020 if Trump can't run. But when asked if the vice president would run if he had to, Pence's spokesman dodged.

The Mike Pence semi-apology tour continued on cable news Monday as the vice president’s nervous communications team continued to scramble.

They’re hoping to extinguish speculation that Pence has been engineering a shadow campaign for the 2020 election, under the unspoken assumption that scandal-plagued Donald Trump won’t be around to run in four years. (Hint: Pence has been.)

But when asked by MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson if Pence would refuse to run in 2020, the vice president’s press secretary, Marc Lotter, danced and dodged:

JACKSON: Hypothetically, if the president were, for whatever reason to decide not to run in 2020, which is something that could happen, are you saying Vice President Pence would not step up and try to take that role?

LOTTER: Well, I don’t talk about hypotheticals. All I know is that every day —

JACKSON: Well, you do talk about hypotheticals. You talk about hypotheticals all the time. So I’m just saying, are you ruling out that possibility?

LOTTER: What I’m talking about is that we are all operating under the assumption every day that the president is seeking re-election in 2020. That is our goal, that’s our focus on delivering his agenda and making sure that we are in a position where the president can be re-elected and continue to lead this country for another four and a half — well, seven and a half years.

Obviously, it’s unprecedented, just six months into a first term, for there to be rampant speculation that the sitting vice president might try to leapfrog his boss for an election cycle more than three years away. But Trump’s an historically unpopular president who’s facing mounting legal concerns as special counsel Robert Mueller convenes a grand jury for his ongoing Russia investigation.

The Sunday New York Times article that acknowledged what has been Pence’s obvious and long-running shadow campaign — maintaining a travel schedule that’s more robust than Trump’s, traveling over and over to swing states, establishing a super PAC — has clearly spooked Trump’s team. Trump is notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to his underlings gaining more time in the spotlight than him.

How can you sense the panic? For starters, how many times this year has the White House dispatched a senior adviser to MSNBC in order to put out a political fire? Not many times.

Yet there was Pence’s man Lotter in the hot seat Monday while MSNBC’s Jackson pressed him about why the vice president was so upset about the Times article, and why his office was spending its second straight day trying to knock it down. And why the wide-ranging effort for a story that was factually accurate.

“It is or is it not true that he did in fact set up a PAC, and it has essentially more than doubled the money raised by President Trump’s PAC?” Jackson asked. It is true, Lotter conceded.

Also as Jackson noted, the Times article was in part based on quotes from Republican players, such as Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, who suspect Pence might be lining up a 2020 run. That fact completely undercuts the wild claim that the Times published a “fake news” hit piece on Pence.