Trump hints: Pence won't be my running mate next time

RedState/Jim Thompson

This marriage of opposites lasted longer than I thought it would before the inevitable divorce.

Most marriages break down because of poor communication or arguments over money. Breaking this one required a coup attempt.

Trump frames his reluctance to having Pence back on the ticket less as a matter of personal dislike than what voters would tolerate. And I think that’s right: Pence is no asset to Trump anymore and might actually be a liability. Trump needed him on the ticket in 2016 as a sop to evangelicals, in case their misgivings about Trump’s character made them wary of turning out. But those fears are long gone; evangelicals plainly don’t care a whit about character in their leaders anymore. If anything, Pence’s refusal to overturn the election on Trump’s behalf might alienate evangelicals and other hardcore MAGA voters if he returned as Trump’s running mate in 2024. Why have a “weak” VP like Pence when Trump could have a strong figure like Ron DeSantis?

“I don’t think the people would accept it,” Trump told the Washington Examiner Tuesday evening during a wide-ranging telephone interview from Mar-a-Lago, his private social club and political headquarters in Palm Beach, Florida…

“Mike thought [on January 6] he was going to be a human conveyor belt, that no matter how fraudulent the votes, you have to send them up to the Old Crow,” Trump said, using his nickname for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

“But that turned out to be wrong. Because now, as you know, they are feverishly working to try and get it so that the vice president cannot do what Mike said he couldn’t do,” the former president added, referring to proposals to overhaul the Electoral Count Act. “Obviously, they were either lying, misrepresenting, or they didn’t know.”

“I was disappointed in Mike,” Trump said.

It’s curious to me that Trump continues to pull his punches against Pence even though Pence has been confrontational with him lately. He called Trump “un-American” a few weeks ago for believing that he should have blocked Biden’s electoral votes and then took a thinly veiled swipe at him when he criticized certain unnamed “apologists for Putin” within the GOP. Even so, Trump reiterated in his interview with David Drucker that he likes Pence and considers him a “very fine person.” It’s unlike him to display residual affection for someone who’s turned on him, especially one who seems to be preparing to challenge him in 2024. Usually he’s unsentimental in seeking to punish cronies for “disloyalty.”

Maybe he has more strategic reasons for not wanting a feud with Pence to escalate?

Trump’s choice of VP next time is an interesting conundrum. The MAGA faithful will prefer Ron DeSantis but that’ll be complicated by the fact that DeSantis is likely to wound Trump’s pride by primarying him in 2024. It’s nothing new for primary opponents to reconcile at the end and form a ticket — see Reagan/Bush — but Trump is vindictive and obsessed with loyalty. He seems to view his role in the GOP more as a monarch than as a politician, which would make any DeSantis 2024 campaign an act of high treason. If DeSantis were to avoid criticizing him too harshly on the campaign trail, maybe Trump could be persuaded to reconcile with him by the end. But Trump is apt to view any criticism as “harsh,” no matter how politely expressed. That’s what being a narcissist means.

I think DeSantis would take the job if it’s offered to him, though. He’ll be out of office in Florida by 2027 and at risk of being yesterday’s news in the 2028 cycle. If he can’t beat Trump in a primary, the VP slot is his only path to relevance until the next presidential election.

There’s a strategic question, though, of whether DeSantis is the biggest net plus for a Trump-led ticket available. Trump/DeSantis is the ticket populists would love most but populists will turn out for Trump anyway so long as his running mate isn’t too establishment. Republican leaders will want a woman on the ticket, mindful of the Democrats’ big advantage with women voters and the near certainty that a woman will be on the ballot for Democrats in 2024 (and every ballot thereafter). Nikki Haley is an obvious possibility but I think she really might be too establishment (and too conniving) for MAGA fans. Maybe Kristi Noem? She has much the same credibility that DeSantis does in having opposed COVID mandates and lockdowns. Elise Stefanik?

If Trump and the GOP are willing to go with an all-male ticket again, he could tap Tim Scott. Scott’s open to the idea, and having him as Trump’s running mate would signal in a singular war that the GOP is serious about trying to build on its gains among minorities from 2020. Trump will also be looking at Latino running mates for the same reason but the two most prominent Hispanics in the party are probably nonstarters for him. Marco Rubio is suspect on immigration to the base due to his work on the Gang of Eight. And Ted Cruz is, well, Ted Cruz.

Gun to my head, I’d bet on a Trump/Scott ticket in 2024. Exit question: Would Pence even want to be Trump’s running mate again given what the job entailed last time?