As vice president, Mike Pence has already been caught – several times – trying to defend Donald Trump in ways that turned out to be completely untrue. Whether he knew he was deceiving the public is a matter of some debate, but Pence has nevertheless been caught peddling brazen falsehoods on the president’s behalf.
And so, I was curious to see what the veep would say today, now that we know Trump World tried to collude with Russia during our adversary’s election attack. Here’s the official statement Pence’s press secretary gave NBC News this afternoon:
“The vice president is working every day to advance the president’s agenda. He was not aware of the meeting. He is also not focused on stories about the campaign – especially those pertaining to the time before he joined the campaign.”
It’s those last 11 words that stand out. Pence didn’t literally say, “Hey, I wasn’t even on the ticket when Team Trump wanted Russia’s illegal help,” but the subtext isn’t exactly subtle.
And it’s against this backdrop that our current vice president seems open, if not eager, to establish his own political identity – distinct from that of the president who chose him. The New York Times reported over the weekend, for example, that Pence “has been courting scores of the country’s most influential donors, corporate executives and conservative political leaders over the past several months in a series of private gatherings and one-on-one conversations.”
Pence is also the first sitting vice president who isn’t running for president himself to create his own political action committee.
Sarah Posner had a good piece yesterday, noting that it’s easy to believe that Pence is taking these steps, not to help Trump’s ambitions, but rather to help his own.
Despite Pence’s protestations to the contrary, the vice president looks to be preparing for his own political future. Beyond this clear signal about his own political ambitions, Pence’s actions raise the question of whether he has lost confidence in Trump’s ability to come out of the Russia investigation unscathed.
This, of course, predated by a day Pence learning about Team Trump’s attempts at collusion – at a time “before he joined the campaign.”
As we discussed several weeks ago, the fact that Pence is taking steps to cultivate his own political brand, distinct from Trump’s, is emblematic of the unusual political circumstances Republicans find themselves in – and if the president stops to think about this for a minute, it’ll probably infuriate him.
I’m skeptical Pence can emerge from the White House’s crisis unscathed – see the aforementioned lies, for example – but the fact that the vice president is even trying suggests we’re approaching the every-person-for-themselves phase.