With Trump in crisis, Pence waits in his shadow
Michael D'Antonio and Peter Eisner - Vice President Mike Pence was among the first to make the "I didn't write it" pledge in the wake of a shocking anonymous essay -- "I Am Part of the Resistance" -- that revealed a conspiracy to save America from an unhinged President. Pence would likely pass the lie detector test that Sen. Rand Paul suggested to find the author, but this wouldn't prove Pence had no influence on the thoughts of the anonymous writer or is preparing for Trump's departure.
The op-ed, published in The New York Times, notes that members of the Cabinet considered using the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to declare Donald Trump unfit and replace him with the vice president. (This is what is meant by those who suggest a "soft coup" is underway.) Although this scenario seems unlikely, Trump's response to Anonymous -- for example, asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate who wrote the op-ed -- could prompt him to act in ways that would finally alienate supporters in Congress and elements of his base. Thus weakened, Trump's departure by impeachment or other means would also open the door of the Oval Office to the vice president.
The grave possibility of a crisis that ends the scandal-scarred Trump presidency could explain the vice president's remarkable record of praising the chaotic commander-in-chief while making himself scarce at moments of crisis. Between his sycophancy, which moved George Will to say that Pence could be "America's most repulsive figure," and his widely noted absences, Pence has established a record that would make him blameless but also acceptable as a successor.
In our reporting for a Pence biography called "The Shadow President," we found that the vice president is enormously influential in the current administration and the national Republican Party. In Trump's Cabinet alone, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar were both Pence people before they joined the Trump team. And with the aid of a political action committee -- the "Great America Committee" -- which he started months after he took office, Pence is building a coast-to-coast network of operatives who could deploy immediately to support his presidency.
Although he has also denied writing the op-ed piece, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is the kind of sober man who would be appalled by Trump. A Hoosier, like Pence, he shares a long history with the vice president that includes a previous controversy involving anonymous actors.
During Pence's unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 1990, staffers in Coats' US Senate office secretly created a fake grassroots environmental group that then lodged false accusations against Pence's opponent, Phil Sharp. Eventually the perpetrators were fired after Coats requested an investigation. Coats and Pence said they did not know anything about the subterfuge.
Now a top security official, Coats may share many of the concerns that Anonymous raised in the op-ed. "In public and in private," the article notes, "President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, and displays little genuine appreciation for the ties that bind us to allied, like-minded nations."
Besides these foreign policy fears, the op-ed describes the ways that Trump has veered from Republican norms on trade and press freedom. But at the core of the critique is moral outrage. "The root of the problem is the President's amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making," Anonymous wrote.
The perspective evidenced by Anonymous would be familiar to anyone who followed Pence over the years and is consistent with the views he espoused prior to joining Trump on the national ticket for the election of 2016. As a calm and highly religious man, Pence is deemed to be a counterweight to the impetuous and profane Trump. He was, for some voters, a sort of guarantee that the President wouldn't do anything too extreme and that should the worst come to pass, the country would be in steady hands.
In the role of loyal but often absent vice president, Pence has retained the support of the Trump base, which means there would be no great uprising if he assumes the presidency. Calm would prevail and no proof would be found linking him to the Resistance.