Niccolo Machiavelli famously wrote: “Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.” This quote perfectly describes Mike Pence.
Mike appears to be a full-throated supporter of President Donald Trump. But if you look more deeply, you can see that he’s keeping as much distance as he can between himself and the bulk of Trump’s administration of cronies, while still espousing loyalty to Trump. He’s happy to talk about the economy, foreign relations, and other conventional Republican topics, but his expressions of support are carefully calculated to avoid the danger zones: Russia, Trump’s kleptocratic buddies, Stormy and company, etc.
But Mike Pence knows what everyone who is not is not duped by the Fox News propaganda machine already understands: Donald Trump’s days as President are numbered. Trump acts like he’s guilty in the Russia probe because he is – we don’t yet know exactly what of, but we know that its bad. Mike knows that only two things can prevent him from becoming President Pence: 1) Donald Trump believes he is no longer loyal and (somehow) manages to dump him, or 2) he becomes embroiled in one of the Trump scandals and goes down with the ship as part of a negotiated exit.
The first scenario is highly unlikely, but Pence is taking no chances. Pence is LOVED by Republicans in both houses, and they are almost universally anxious for the day when their standard bearer is an adult. So, even if Trump tried to move against him, the party would put a quick stop to any such plan. But Pence is looking to the 2020 Presidential election, and knows that he will need Trump voters to win. So, he’s playing the role of a faithful soldier. He will never be at the head of the dump Trump train, but he may secretly be its biggest booster.
The second scenario is where some danger lies for Pence. He may indeed be connected to the Russia thing – but we have yet to know the whole story. Assuming that he was minimally involved and preserves a degree of plausible deniability, his exposure should be limited. Republicans will do everything they can to give him the benefit of the doubt, so as long as they are in power, he’s likely safe.
Now we come to the central question: When do the Republicans make this happen? It is NOT a legal issue – its strictly a political calculation. Are they better off with President Trump or with President Pence? As the noose begins to tighten on Trump and his behavior becomes even more erratic and indefensible, the movement will gather steam.
So will Republicans dump Trump before the 2018 election? If so, they may retain one or both majorities. Or will they (as the Democrats hope) stick with Trump until they lose one or both Congressional majorities and numerous state majorities? If that happens, Trump will come under intense pressure and – like any bully who loses a fight – will quit during the lame duck session (and he will expect a pardon). Trump doesn’t really like being President, and he really won’t like it if he has to endure even one day of what will be endless Democratic-led congressional inquiries.
Either way, Trump will be gone by January 1, 2019. The only question is, what will be left of the mighty Republican Party once Mike Pence becomes its leader?