Report: Trump and aides discussed whether Pence should remain on the 2020 ticket

I don’t believe it — although there have been some curious reports lately alleging that POTUS is harboring doubts about Pence.

And it would be an extremely Trump-y outcome for Pence to embrace Trump in hopes of furthering his own career, only to see himself ruined and humiliated in the end. Like the politician version of Michael Cohen.

And it is sort of interesting that this meeting happened a day before Nikki Haley showed up at the White House to discuss “various topics” with Trump in a meeting that wasn’t included on his public schedule.

Good lord, I’m talking myself into believing this.

Would Trump really broach this subject at a meeting with multiple aides, though, knowing that it would inevitably get back to Pence one way or another? C’mon. This is the sort of calculation that’s very closely held and then announced to the veep only when the president’s resolved to do it.

On Monday, Trump hosted a 2020 strategy meeting with a group of advisers. Among the topics discussed was whether Mike Pence should remain on the ticket, given the hurricane-force political headwinds Trump will face, as demonstrated by the midterms, a source briefed on the session told me. “They’re beginning to think about whether Mike Pence should be running again,” the source said, adding that the advisers presented Trump with new polling that shows Pence doesn’t expand Trump’s coalition. “He doesn’t detract from it, but he doesn’t add anything either,” the source said…

Trump’s doubts about Pence are surprising given Pence’s frequent public encomiums and professions of loyalty. “Trump waxes and wanes on everyone,” a prominent Republican close to the White House explained. Part of what’s driving the debate over Pence’s political value is Trump’s stalled search for a chief of staff to replace John Kelly. According to a source, Kelly has recently been telling Trump that Pence doesn’t help him politically. The theory is that Kelly is unhappy that Pence’s 36-year-old chief of staff, Nick Ayers, has been openly campaigning for Kelly’s job. “Kelly has started to get more political and he’s whispering to Trump that Trump needs a running mate who can help him more politically,” the source said.

Is this a revenge play by Kelly, knifing Pence because Ayers is trying to steal his job? Eh. It’s true that Pence doesn’t add anything to the ticket. You could argue in 2016 that Trump needed a stalwart evangelical as his number two to reassure Christian conservatives that they could trust a lifelong libertine with power, but now Trump is more popular with evangelical Republicans than Pence is. What’s the argument for leaving him on the ticket apart from “tradition”? You could counter that he’d be more loyal to Trump as VP than Haley would, which is true but beside the point. That’s an argument for replacing him with someone other than Haley, not an argument for not replacing him.

Although, if we’re being real, who else could replace him except Haley? The point of dropping Pence from the ticket would be to add someone who can pull in swing voters. The swing voters Republicans are most worried about right now are suburbanites and college-educated women (groups that overlap quite a bit), who ran away from the GOP in the midterms. Having a woman on the ticket would also be useful if Democrats nominate a ticket with some gender and/or racial diversity, which is all but assured. Who’s the most prominent woman official in the Republican Party right now? Haley, of course, and there’s no meaningful competition. She’s a seasoned and successful campaigner in her own right, she’s well-liked by dogmatic conservatives, she has a “different kind of Republican” brand among non-GOPers by dint of her age, her race, and her opposition to flying the Confederate flag on the statehouse grounds in South Carolina, and she’s established her own political identity from her foreign-policy stemwinders at the UN. Trump’s not going to drop a national known quantity like Pence for Marsha Blackburn, say. It’d be Haley.

Asking him to replace someone whose chief virtue is public loyalty with someone whose loyalty is uncertain is a major ask, though, when that someone would directly benefit from Trump’s political demise. He has enough worries already about backstabbing going on around him. He’d be looking over his shoulder every day with Haley as second in command. And I think it’s hard as a threshold matter for the presidential ego to contemplate that a different VP might help him win in 2020. Acknowledging that would mean potentially having to share credit for a glorious reelection victory, something which I think would bug Trump to the point that he’d rather take his chances with his current generic VP. He has four options: Winning with Pence and receiving all of the accolades; losing with Pence and enjoying a comfortable retirement in which he spends his days watching “Fox & Friends” and tweeting that the election was stolen from him; winning with Haley and having to endure excruciating media flattery towards her about how she “made the difference”; or losing with Haley and having to wonder forever if she “dragged him down,” if he should have stuck with the winning formula from 2016, etc. I think it’s possible that both Haley scenarios are less palatable to him than either Pence scenario.

Via Mediaite, here’s Scarborough pushing his own fringey theory about Trump and Haley in 2020: Trump won’t run for reelection, Haley will be nominated instead.