It is already a foregone conclusion that the Trump campaign is like none other in modern American History. I don’t believe there has ever been a presidential campaign structure with the title CEO before. To my knowledge we have never seen a campaign with such a small and inexperienced communications staff. Nor have we seen a campaign that has paid so little attention to staffing in individual states. While the candidate has always been the primary decision maker within a campaign, there usually exists a decision-making process within which key advisors are heard and experience is valued. Not so in the Trump campaign. There is one primary decision-maker and he is the one with the least experience. The fact that Trump is on his third campaign manager speaks volumes about the turmoil at Trump Tower.
One of the most important decisions made by the presumptive candidate is his choice of a running mate. History is replete with examples of primary rivals who have presented a solid front as the party ticket during the general campaign. Trump didn’t even choose from among his primary rivals to fill his Vice Presidential slot. With great fanfare he brought possible choices to one or another of his homes where he and his children interviewed them. Finally, to the great disappointment of Chris Christie, Mike Pence was announced as the choice to round out the ticket. It was a choice that was generally received with positive reaction. While his politics and policies as Congressman and Governor are repugnant to me, they are in line with the conservative Republican Party. It was also felt that Pence would bring some stability and sanity to counteract the rhetorical bombshells tossed with regularity by the head of the ticket. While from the outside looking in it was hoped that Pence would change the tenor of the campaign, from the candidate’s perspective he was seeking a running mate that would at the very least do no harm and be loyal.
Tuesday night’s debate raised serious questions about Pence’s willingness to abide by these two basic expectations. Since Pence’s entry into the campaign he has spent much of his time cleaning up from the night before. All too often Pence found himself having to clarify a Trump statement or assertion made before a frenzied rally crowed. He found himself trying to make sure that the top of the ticket did no harm. He also found himself having to reverse himself on such issues as trade, support for the Iraq war and a ban of Muslim entry into the US. While this is not all that uncommon when a VP candidate joins the ticket, it seemed to be accentuated in this instance because of Trump’s total disdain for those who would dare to question his positions. However, most running mates see this as a small price to pay for the ultimate prize. Virtually all candidates for the vice presidency see this as a positive career move placing them on a trajectory to the Oval Office. But what if defeat appears increasingly imminent? What if the top of the ticket is viewed as emotionally unstable and fundamentally ill-informed and ignorant of basic domestic and international issues? What if the extreme nature of the presidential candidate’s rhetoric attracted the most deplorable fringes of society to make up his core base of support? What if being associated too closely with the top of the ticket could mean the end of a political career? Politics is only a team sport as long as it serves the needs of all members of the team. Last night Pence made it clear that he was no longer a stalwart member of the Trump team.
Pence views 2020 as the dividend for his efforts in 2016. He must thank Trump for elevating him to the national stage. But gratitude goes only so far. He failed to support his candidate’s assertions on multiple occasions during the debate. He spoke to his base, the religious right, not Trump’s base. I have no doubt that as the polls close on November 8th, Pence will quietly begin building his campaign for 2020. Another bit of proof that Trump lacks judgement in that he chose a running mate that is not willing to subvent his own political ambitions for the sake of the ticket. He misjudged Pence’s loyalty.