OPINION | Mike Pence's 2020 run will go down in flames with Trump's presidency
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Is he?  Or isn’t he?  To learn the answer, listen to what he says, not what he does.

Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceDems face close polls in must-win Virginia Report: Trump administration officials urged furious Tillerson not to quit Authorities recover 47 firearms in connection with Las Vegas shooter MORE spent the better part of his Monday morning tap-dancing his way out of the danger zone with President Trump after a New York Times article “Republican Shadow Campaign for 2020 Takes Shape as Trump Doubts Growrather credibly outlined how Pence is, in fact, choreographing a possible-to-likely 2020 run for president.

It’s as if Trump is of the belief — or illusion — he will be a candidate for re-election despite the fact that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has convened at least two grand juries regarding Trump, his family and his campaign contact with Russia.  It’s as if Trump is unaware that 99 percent of the time, grand juries result in indictments.  It’s as if Trump hasn’t seen the latest polls pegging him at the lowest approval rating of any president in modern polling history at this point in a presidency with even his base – that hardcore “don’t-confuse-me-with-facts MAGA” base – is starting to back away slowly from Trump.

Trump is weak.

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Pence issued a statement of denial, or at least about 80 percent a denial (yes, Pence left some wiggle room, calling the suggestion he’s running “laughable and absurd” rather than saying outright he is not running for president in 2020).  But it’s clear to even the casual observer or college freshman poli-sci major that Pence is readying for a run for the 2020 GOP nomination.

It will be nearly impossible for him to have it both ways, but don’t think for a minute that will stop him from trying.

While Pence sold his soul to be the right-hand guy to the worst president in history with approval ratings in the sewer, other potential GOP 2020 primary candidates such as Gov.  John Kasich (Ohio), Sens Tom CottonTom CottonHouse bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Republicans jockey for position on immigration The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Ark.) and Ben Sasse (Neb.) have the luxury of being unburdened by forced loyalty to an unprincipled demagogue they appropriately and rightly wrote off. In New Hampshire, Kasich is already polling well ahead of both Trump and Pence in a head-to-head matchup.  

Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley also is well-positioned for 2020, and has carved out a niche of independence that distances her from Trump, thus placing her in that Kasich/Sasse category.  

Mike Pence enjoys no such luxury.  He has a PAC, he’s hired a top-tier GOP fundraiser and is nurturing his relationship with the donor base.  He’s doing precisely what a person does when planning one’s presidential campaign.  But he can’t separate himself from Trump. He can’t shed whatever may happen to his party in the 2018 congressional mid-term elections.  And when Trump comes after him as he has so many times with so many others, Pence will be defenseless, left with nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

What is left of what was Trump’s will be Trump’s, and the rest will migrate rapidly to the anti-Trump, whomever he or she will be.  Pence will be an island.  A deserted one. He’ll be as lonely and isolated as Chris Christie on a closed New Jersey beach.  Would he even want an endorsement from a disgraced Trump in the desperate hope to garner his remaining MAGA cult voters and likely lose any other possible support from other corners of the electorate?

Expect Trump’s vice-president, hand-picked by Trump’s former top aide, Paul Manafort, who is at the center of the Trump/Russia probe, to attempt to paint himself as a naïve waif on any and all Trump team Russia collusion.

Pence clearly understands the trouble he’s in after the New York Times piece.  His press statement — the mere fact of it — served as a bit of a sad reminder of the heavy price everyone who attaches themselves to Trump eventually pays. The other potential candidates named didn’t need such a press statement.  

Pence will be the lonely boy peering through the fence watching the other children play and thrive, as Kasich and the others trek to Iowa and New Hampshire, freely offering public critiques of the disaster in the White House, while Trump’s vice president (who fought for the job after Trump reportedly had already offered it to now-discarded Chris Christie) is tethered to Trump as his VP. That is, at least, until Trump gives him the Spicer/Preibus/Scaramucci/Christie/Romney treatment, with a large dose of humiliation to wash down the rejection.

If Trump goes down in flames over his ties to Russia, it’s unlikely voters — even Republican voters — will want his lieutenant, nor will #NeverTrump warriors choose Trump-light over those who stood by their principles from the get-go.  The Pence pivot away from Trump will fail. Nonetheless, expect to find the Pence family develop a sudden interest to “vacation” in Iowa and New Hampshire, especially as Mueller gets hotter.

Cheri Jacobus is a former congressional staffer, RNC spokesperson and political consultant. Follow her on Twitter @CheriJacobus.


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