An odd thing happened over the weekend. The New York Times ran a piece that among other things discussed Vice-President Mike Pence’s apparent preparations for a higher political profile heading towards 2020. Yes, the article mentioned other 2020 preparations by other Republicans who aren’t so friendly to Donald Trump, like John Kasich. And it also quoted Republicans concerned about various indicators of Trump’s weakness, with this attribution of anxiety being the most abrasive to the White House:
[I]n interviews with more than 75 Republicans at every level of the party, elected officials, donors and strategists expressed widespread uncertainty about whether Mr. Trump would be on the ballot in 2020 and little doubt that others in the party are engaged in barely veiled contingency planning.
But then there was this clear disclaimer when it came to Mike Pence’s preparations:
In most cases, the shadow candidates and their operatives have signaled that they are preparing only in case Mr. Trump is not available in 2020. Most significant, multiple advisers to Mr. Pence have already intimated to party donors that he would plan to run if Mr. Trump did not.
All in all: Ho-hum.
But you’d think from the reaction that the Times had accused Mike Pence of plotting regicide.
Calling it “disgraceful and offensive,” Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday denounced a New York Times report that he is quietly building his own shadow campaign for 2020.”
“Today’s article in the New York Times is disgraceful and offensive to me, my family, and our entire team,” Pence said in a statement Sunday. “The allegations in this article are categorically false and represent just the latest attempt by the media to divide this Administration.”
Whoa. Disgraceful to Pence’s family? The statement got even shriller, believe it or not:
Whatever fake news may come our way, my entire team will continue to focus all our efforts to advance the President’s agenda and see him re-elected in 2020. Any suggestion otherwise is both laughable and absurd.
The reference to “fake news” suggests that maybe the Pence story had something to do with the random Twitter assault on the Times today from the president, who wasn’t real clear what had provoked him this time:
If you needed any more confirmation that the Pence story had really gotten under the skin of Trump allies, the Washington Post’s designated pro-Trump columnist, Ed Rogers, became more than a little unhinged:
By running such a blatantly contrived story, the Times has only further proved that the mainstream media is out of control and conniving to the point of being clumsy and, dare I say, fake news. Its only goal was to disrupt the Trump White House, discourage Republican donors and distract GOP candidates on the 2018 ballot, who have no patience for anyone thinking beyond that election.
At this point, the New York Times is not reporting the news but trying to create it.
Lord a-mercy, these people are protesting way too much.
Donald Trump is a septuagenarian whose interest in politics has waxed and waned over the years, even as his business interests have remained central to his very vivid sense of identity. Those who are most strongly attached to the political movement he claims to lead would be fools not to consider a contingency plan for 2020 in which he is not a candidate for reelection. Health and mortality issues aside, it’s not like an incumbent president standing down is unprecedented: It’s happened twice in Donald Trump’s lifetime (1952 and 1968).
In a less neurotic administration, Pence and his people would have hastened to say they are promoting the vice-president’s political identity precisely because of his loyalty to Trump and Trumpism — to ensure that the Trump legacy continues uninterrupted no matter what. And Trump himself could have gone out of his way to make it clear he is actively grooming his successor, whether it’s for 2024 (when Pence will be five years younger than Trump was in 2016) or sooner.
Instead, the whole Trump political apparatus freaked out at the very suggestion that The Boss is not immortal. That is not a good sign for his longevity as a dominant influence in American politics.