Be careful what you wish for: the smooth ideologue is next in line if Trump fallsby Sam Tanenhaus / June 21, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
As scandal engulfs Donald Trump’s presidency, attention has turned, increasingly, to the man who would stand to gain from his downfall—Vice President Mike Pence. In May, hearings took place in the House of Representatives and Senate on the growing evidence of election-meddling by Russia. The FBI launched an investigation. Then in June, James Comey, the former head of the FBI, testified before Congress about Trump’s attempts to influence that investigation. Now Trump is officially under FBI investigation for obstruction of justice. Republicans in Washington and Conservatives across the United States are beginning to imagine a post-Trump world. They are whispering “President Pence.”
As vice president, Pence is the second-highest official in the land, a “heartbeat” away from the top job. But he has no actual power or even meaningful duties, apart from casting the deciding vote on the rare occasion when the Senate is deadlocked. “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived,” moaned John Adams, the nation’s first vice president, in 1793. Yet it was also Adams who said, “I am nothing, but I may be everything.” And so it proved when he succeeded George Washington, a move that has been repeated many times since. The vice presidency remains the surest route, however winding, to the presidency. It was the path taken by unloved figures like Richard Nixon and George HW Bush. The death of incumbent presidents elevated Harry Truman (1945) and Lyndon Johnson (1963). The most resonant example today may be Gerald Ford, vice president during the Watergate scandal that ended Nixon’s presidency and the most unlikely of all “accidental” presidents.
Pence has wisely tried to quell all such talk. It can only injure him with Trump, who is thin-skinned even at the best of times and vindictive when things turn against him, as they seem to do almost daily. Possible tension between the two men may also arise from their stark temperamental differences—the roguish Trump vs the pure, devoutly Christian Republican Pence. Reports that Pence refuses to dine alone with any woman who is not his wife—he allegedly calls Mrs Pence “mother”—led to a snicker-fest on Twitter, summed up neatly in the Los Angeles Times. Were Pence’s precautions “a sign of marital devotion and respect? Or a signal that the Pences don’t trust Mike Pence to be alone with a woman? Or perhaps don’t trust a woman to be alone with Mike Pence?”