Although I disagree with the Vice President on most domestic issues (although we’re probably fairly aligned on most foreign policy issues), I believe him to be an intelligent and honorable man. I’m therefore intrigued by the manner in which he’s currently positioning himself with his fawning behavior toward the President (I’m avoiding “obsequious,” the latest buzz word), given these premises:
1. Mr. Flynn’s guilty plea dramatically altered the severity and immediacy of the impact of the Mueller investigation upon Mr. Trump’s presidency. By far the most reasonable assumption as to why the Mueller team would let Mr. Flynn plead guilty to such a minor charge is his willingness to provide evidence against Messrs. Trump, Trump, Jr., and/or Kushner. The potential for substantial charges implicating the President – with consequent impeachment proceedings — would seem to be a significant possibility. Mr. Pence and his advisors have to recognize that his chances of ascending to the presidency are higher than any Vice President’s since … Gerald Ford’s.
2. Mr. Pence certainly appreciates that like all Vice Presidents, his primary duty is to ready himself to be President in a manner that enables him to effectively serve the American people who elected him. While generally the best way for a VP to fulfill that goal is to adhere closely to the President, in light of current circumstances, it would seem that whether to adhere to or quietly separate from Mr. Trump is a strategic conundrum for Mr. Pence. Given the toxic partisanship that exists today, if Mr. Trump is impeached, the country’s emotional upheaval, exacerbated by what can confidently be assumed will be Mr. Trump’s own response, will be our worst internal maelstrom since the Civil War. Presumably, Mr. Pence sees that if such circumstances arise, it will be incumbent upon him to strongly uphold our rule of law while presenting stability to the world and maintaining a core credibility – that which supersedes a position on any given issue – with those on the right and the left.
3. In the Vice President’s position, my reaction would have been to start quietly separating myself from the President in order to establish credibility beyond Mr. Trump’s rabid base, by supporting the Administration initiatives I believed in, while sidestepping the President’s piques and avoiding the displays of sycophancy that marred the signing of the tax bill. Mr. Pence and his team appear to have concluded that the best way at this juncture for him to maintain that core credibility across the political divide is by clinging to Mr. Trump. This approach presumably lessens the possibility that Mr. Pence will be blamed for the impeachment by Mr. Trump or his rabid base, and increases the likelihood that he can maintain their support as he assumes the presidency. Since he already has the support of mainstream Republicans, he must be calculating that he can wait until he takes office to obtain at least the grudging support from the left by then making aggressive healing overtures.
If this is his strategy, it rests on two assumptions: that Fox News and the conservative media will report in a way that causes Trumpers to look favorably on him (not a bad bet); and that Mr. Trump himself doesn’t dump on him, or claim he undermined Mr. Trump’s presidency (not as good a bet). If Mr. Trump would aggressively lash out at Mr. Pence – provided that conservative media was willing to serve as Mr. Trump’s megaphone — all of Mr. Pence’s current fawning behavior toward the President would have been for naught; he will assume the presidency without the support of the Trumpers while having done nothing to garner credit and good will from the left for being his own man.
Time will tell whether he needed a strategy for healing the nation’s current divisions … and if he did, whether he picked the right one …