Former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence keep telling people they're maintaining a "good relationship." Yet Republican insiders see their awkward peace ending if both launch 2024 presidential campaigns.
PENCE-TRUMP IS A TRICKY TWO-STEP
The 45th president has repeatedly criticized his former No. 2 for lacking the "courage" to try stopping lawmakers' count of the Electoral College vote in favor of now-President Joe Biden on Jan. 6. That same rhetoric was at the very least partially responsible for pro-Trump rioters storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, with some hellbent on handing out their own brand of justice to the then-vice president. Groups of angry rioters chanted, "Hang Mike Pence." There was at least one gallows on the Capitol grounds.
I heard at least 3 different rioters at the Capitol say that they hoped to find Vice President Mike Pence and execute him by hanging him from a Capitol Hill tree as a traitor. It was a common line being repeated. Many more were just talking about how the VP should be executed. https://t.co/fxHREouEWF— Jim Bourg (@jimbourg) January 8, 2021
Still, Trump stated Saturday that despite their disagreement over the election certification, he and Pence are still close.
"I was disappointed with Mike on one thing, as he understands and some other people understand," he said in an interview with Fox News. "But overall, I had a very good relationship with Mike, and he’s a very fine person and a fine man."
Meanwhile, Pence's 2021 schedule, including launching an advocacy group blending "Make America Great Again" doctrine with more traditional, conservative principles and a keynote speech to New Hampshire Republicans, has made his 2024 White House ambitions clear. He also coupled these with a recent op-ed in which he closely aligned himself with Trump's 2020 election claims without directly repeating the "Big Lie."
"President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office, and I don’t know if we’ll ever see eye to eye on that day," Pence said at the time. "But I will always be proud of what we accomplished for the American people over the last four years."
Taking all of these actions into account makes Pence's presidential ambitions abundantly clear, and unlike former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, he hasn't said he'd back off a White House bid should Trump try again in 2024.
So why is Trump, who in part built his own political career by ruthlessly attacking perceived rivals, playing relatively nice with Pence?
Three former Trump administration officials told the Washington Examiner that Trump legitimately considers Pence a friend and will only seriously turn on him if they both launch presidential campaigns.
"He's not going to burn any bridges at this point. It's way too early," one stated.
A second official noted that despite Pence's decisions on Jan. 6, he hasn't been publicly "trashing" Trump like Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney.
Two Republican strategists gave slightly more cynical explanations — namely that, based on the polls, Pence isn't really a threat to a third Trump run.
One strategist pointed specifically to a May Morning Consult poll, which showed that nearly half of all Republican respondents wanted Trump to run again in 2024. Only 13% of respondents selected Pence as their preferred Republican nominee.
2024 National Republican Primary:— Political Polls (@Politics_Polls) May 19, 2021
Trump Jr. 7%
Tim Scott 2%
Rick Scott 0%
.@MorningConsult/@politico, 982 RV, 5/14-17https://t.co/Vcj0lGMiRD
"If Pence starts surging, you might see Trump change his tune," he continued. "But that's only if he decides to run again."
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"If Trump doesn't run and Pence ends up being the guy for 2024, he'll want to throw his full weight behind him, no strings attached," the second strategist added, noting Trump's post-White House emergence as the GOP's campaign kingmaker.
The second strategist added that barring a third Trump run, DeSantis will eventually emerge as the Republican nominee, but Trump will still keep his options in the Republican primary open.
"If Trump doesn't run, you can bet he'll obsess over picking the right horse," he continued. "He's raising tons and tons of money, and he's going to want to spend it on someone he thinks is a sure thing, whether that's DeSantis, Pence, or someone else."