Vice President Mike Pence is one heartbeat, or resignation, away from the top job. But with Trump’s robust health and seeming immunity to the effects of scandals that would have sunk a normal presidency, Pence’s accession is unlikely–certainly not unless the Democrats make huge gains at the 2018 midterm elections and successfully impeach the President.
But that doesn’t stop people on the Right from dreaming. Smart GOP players increasingly believe that Trump’s ethical missteps will land him in legal hot water, and as yet not one single policy priority of his administration, from the border wall to health care reform, has been signed into law. His signature “travel ban” has now been struck down by the courts for a third time. And not even Trump’s most ardent supporters would claim that this one-time Hillary donor is a conservative true believer. At best they would claim that he is, to steal a phrase, a baby conservative. Pence, who is as ideologically pure as the driven snow, makes for a perfect contrast.
The interest in Pence and the murmurs of him succeeding Trump wax and wane as the president’s tumultuous first year continues. They reached a high this week with a 13,000 word hit piece on Pence in The New Yorker.
The part of this article that really made the news was the following paragraph:
During a meeting with a legal scholar, Trump belittled Pence’s determination to overturn Roe v. Wade. The legal scholar had said that, if the Supreme Court did so, many states would likely legalize abortion on their own. “You see?” Trump asked Pence. “You’ve wasted all this time and energy on it, and it’s not going to end abortion anyway.” When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”
Trump making fun of Pence’s social conservatism is the sort of thing Trump supporters have nightmares about. It reveals the deep fissure within the Trump coalition: the three-way disconnect between Steve Bannon’s “populist nationalists,” the moneyed Republican donors, and the socially conservative Republican base.
This conversation is vouched for by two separate sources, and it’s certainly in keeping with Trump’s public vacillation on abortion and gay marriage. In one sense, Trump’s nomination was a big white flag from mainstream conservatives, broadcasting their near-complete surrender in the culture wars. If the Republican Party was incensed enough about gay marriage or abortion to do something about it, they would have nominated a candidate who would do something about it. Instead, we got Donald Trump, who tacitly supported gay marriage long before Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama did, and who said in 1999 that he was “very pro-choice.”
Although The New Yorker attempts to sling mud at Pence throughout the article (especially regarding his potentially worrisome ties to the billionaire Koch brothers), the passage I quoted above is what made the news. Trump is bad, people said. But could Pence be even worse?
Of course, Trump is wrong on several counts in the reported conversation. Although Pence is a strong supporter of religious freedom and signed (but later watered down) controversial protections for religious people, there is no indication that he means violence towards gay people or anyone else.
Furthermore, if the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, abortion would immediately become illegal. Lives would be saved. And if abortion were no longer protected by the Court’s interpretation of the 14th amendment, it would have to be because the rights of the fetus were taken into account. And if the fetus has rights, then any subsequent legislation allowing abortion at the state level would certainly be challenged, and hopefully overturned, in the courts.
Trump has been burning bridges with his supporters, from Chris Christie to Bob Corker, since the beginning of his presidency. But if he alienates social conservatives, arguably the nation’s most powerful voting bloc, then he is gone in 2020. Evangelicals, for better or for worse, put this man in office. And they could show him the door if they wanted. If the Access Hollywood tapes didn’t convince you that Trump is a pig and a fraud, how about the fact that he suckered millions of Americans into thinking that he was Pro-Life?
Democrats know Trump’s weakness:
From a purely partisan viewpoint, Harold Ickes, a longtime Democratic operative, argues that—putting aside the fear that Trump might start a nuclear war—“Democrats should hope Trump stays in office,” because he makes a better foil, and because Pence might work more effectively with Congress and be more successful at advancing the far right’s agenda. Newt Gingrich predicts that Pence will probably get a chance to do so.
Above Mike Pence’s fireplace, a plaque hangs with an inscription from Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The New Yorker chooses to interpret this oft-cited Bible verse as some sort of talisman giving us a look into Pence’s overweening ambition for the presidency. But maybe, just maybe, Pence believes that God’s plans, not his own, are what matters. The danger of President Pence? Well, as John F. Kennedy said, “In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognize the opportunity.”