Not since the release of the Access Hollywood tape, in which Donald Trump bragged about groping women by the genitals, have some conservatives thought so seriously, if a bit wistfully, about two words: President Pence.
The scandals clouding Trump’s presidency — including, most recently, his firing of FBI Director James Comey, his alleged leak of classified information to Russian officials, and reports that he urged Comey to drop an investigation into a top aide — have raised once more the possibility that Trump could be pushed aside and replaced by Vice President Mike Pence.
“If what the [New York Times] reported is true, Pence is probably rehearsing,” one House Republican who asked not to be named quipped Wednesday. “It’s just like Nixon. From the standpoint that it’s never the underlying issue, it is always the cover-up.”
The still far-fetched proposition of removing Trump from office has increasing appeal to Republicans who are growing weary of defending Trump and are alarmed by his conduct in office. But such whispers are cringe-worthy for Pence and his aides, who have made an art of not upstaging the mercurial president. Pence’s press secretary declined to comment for this article.
On the campaign trail, Pence would shut down any conversations about the possibility of his own future bid should Trump lose, telling donors who raised the prospect that he was entirely focused on the race at hand. Aides said that sentiment was sincere — even if they engaged in some thinking about what Pence’s future could entail after a likely loss.
Still, some conservatives are hinting that Pence looks like a particularly good alternative right now, especially as the Justice Department moves ahead with a special prosecutor for the FBI’s Russia probe.
Erick Erickson, a conservative pundit who was a strong Never Trumper but then pledged to give the president a chance, wrote on Wednesday that Republicans should abandon the president because they “have no need for him with Mike Pence in the wings.”
And conservative New York Times op-ed writer Ross Douthat, argued that abandoning Trump now should be easier because someone competent is waiting in the wings. “Hillary Clinton will not be retroactively elected if Trump is removed, nor will Neil Gorsuch be unseated,” Douthat wrote in Wednesday’s Times.
The pining for Pence is nothing new, however. From Capitol Hill to K Street, the notion that many Republicans prefer Pence to Trump in the Oval Office is perhaps the worst-kept secret in Washington.
Just ask Republican lobbyists who have watched the Trump administration struggle to move tax reform, health care and other top priorities.
SOURCE: MATTHEW NUSSBAUM and THEODORIC MEYER