As such, I think his debate performance suggests Pence is trying to figure out a synthesis between traditional conservatism and Trumpism, and articulate that synthesis to the public. What, exactly, does this synthesis look like? It’s a mix of movement conservatism, immigration restrictionism, and a renewed focus on law and order. Will it be enough to keep Trump voters and mainstream Republicans inside the same tent? That’s not clear, but Mike Pence wants to find out.
He has made a terrible choice by tying himself to a ship captained by Trump. But on the other hand, he has signed up to a no-lose proposition: If Trump loses, Pence automatically becomes a leading contender for 2020, one uniquely placed to capture the same movement Trump built without the character issues and screw-ups that made Trump toxic for the rest of the electorate.
But if Trump wins, Washington Republicans fully expect to box Trump in as much as possible through appointments, and administrative and bureaucratic shenanigans. Pence will essentially act as regent. In Pence’s dream scenario, he gets four terms as president: Two as Trump’s VP, then two more as commander in chief.