(Trends Wide) — Mike Pence adds staff to his new office in central Washington, moving closer to a possible White House run, even though his status vis-à-vis former President Donald Trump and his supporter base has worsened.
The former vice president’s effort comes as Trump appears to be fulfilling his statement to Pence that “I no longer want to be your friend.” That quote, first reported this week, is attributed to Trump in an upcoming book by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
The last conversation between the two Republican leaders was a phone call from Trump in April, Republican sources tell Trends Wide, wishing Pence the best as the former vice president recovered from heart surgery.
Pence is not waiting to reconcile with his former running mate, nor is he waiting for the former president to decide on his own political future. People close to Pence rejected the idea that he will delay his planning for 2024 until Trump announces whether he will run.
“Mike is going to look at this and say, ‘Where am I being called to serve?'” Said a person close to Pence. “That is not going to be thwarted by any man or woman.”
“If you feel called to do this,” continued the advisor, “it will not be who else is in the race.”
Pence’s senior aides told Trends Wide this week that the Indiana Republican has doubled his team to about 20 people this summer.
He has also added a major Republican fundraiser, John Fogarty, and new office space for his nonprofit group, Advancing American Freedom.
At the moment, most would-be GOP hopefuls tiptoe around Trump, either suggesting they won’t run if he does or, like former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, saying so openly in public.
This is not the case with Pence. Although his advisers refuse to explain his plan, parts of it seem evident in the way he has expanded his operation and increased his agenda, all amid headlines that do not exactly enhance its appeal to Trump’s faithful.
But while Trump is preoccupied with litigating the 2020 election and settling scores, often with fellow Republicans, Pence tries to forge a path independent of the former president.
Pence travels the country helping Republican candidates and causes, assisting with everything from fundraising to lending his top advisers to his campaigns. His aides say he’s especially focused on helping the Republican Party win a majority in the House of Representatives and more gubernatorial seats in next year’s midterm elections.
He also makes more plans to visit three of the top states for the presidential primaries – Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina – in the coming months.
Nonetheless, some Republicans say that despite his efforts to take on a role as the de facto leader of the party, Pence remains a supporting actor in the Trump show.
“He is the one most connected to Trump of all the people on the field, in both useful and useless ways,” said David Kochel, an Iowa-based Republican campaign strategist. “No one would be more affected by a comment from Trump than Pence, and no one more vulnerable to Trump’s contest. “
Although the Republican Party is still Trump’s party, those around Pence see his differences with Trump as an advantage.
They hope that Pence’s forward-looking approach and emphasis on party unity will, over time, prove more attractive to Republican voters than Trump’s spiteful attitude and refusal to rise to the occasion.
Last weekend, a person close to Pence noted that Trump briefly met with police and firefighters in New York, skipping official 9/11 20th anniversary commemorations attended by other former presidents. Trump later spent that night commenting on a series of paid boxing matches in Florida.
The advisers noted that Pence had a different agenda, starting with the dedication of the 9/11 memorial in Indiana. The same weekend, Pence met with the family of Daegan Page, a Marine who was one of 13 US service members killed in a bombing raid during the retreat from Afghanistan on a trip to Omaha.
During his stay in Omaha, Pence also attended two political events. He spoke at Nebraska Governor Pete Rickett’s annual barbecue, along with two other potential candidates for 2024, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. And he attended a fundraiser for Representative Don Bacon, a Republican member of the House of Representatives in a vulnerable district who voted for Joe Biden in 2020.
Trump has focused his political energies this year on taking on House Republicans who voted for his impeachment and getting involved in competitive Senate primaries. Pence is taking a different tactic, one designed to build and build on relationships that will be helpful in the future.
“Pence will try to help the party win seats, not foster division,” said the person close to the former vice president.
On the fundraising circuit this summer, Pence raised money for everyone from the Republican National Committee to individual candidates for the House of Representatives such as Bacon and South Carolina Representative Nancy Mace. He has held two fundraisers for Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, and has even loaned one of his trusted communications advisers, Devin O’Malley, to help Youngkin’s campaign.
He also has fundraisers planned for the Indiana Congressional delegation and the Republican Governors Association, according to his advisers.
Pence continues to be a popular attraction for Republican donors. A person who attended the Republican National Committee’s summer donor retreat in Southern California said the audience was “maxed out” for Pence’s comments.
“I think Pence is doing what he can.”
Pence’s advisers want to make a case that he was and continues to be a source of staunch conservative leadership where Trump, implicitly, has not been.
Sometimes that means giving policy-focused speeches, like the one he delivered on China in July at the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank where Pence is a “distinguished guest fellow.” He is scheduled to deliver a similar speech on law enforcement policies in the coming weeks.
At other times, it means asserting yourself on your actions on January 6, as you did in June at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. In that speech, Pence berated Trump, calling the pressure to annul the 2020 election “anti-American.”
But Pence is also careful to direct his most outspoken criticism of the Joe Biden government. In an appearance last week on “Fox & Friends,” it followed President Biden’s announcement that employees of medium and large companies would be required to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“I mean, for the president of the United States to say that he has been patient but his patience is wearing thin? This is not how the American people expect our elected leaders to speak to them,” Pence said.
Instead, he asked government leaders to encourage Americans to get vaccinated and to “lead by example.” In doing so, Pence positioned himself in a kind of middle ground for Republicans: supporting the vaccine but criticizing the policy of the Democratic government.
For some Republican observers, these decisions show that Pence so far is playing his hand well in the aftermath of the 2020 election.
“I think Pence is doing what he can: saying the right things, defining himself as himself and not Trump’s replacement, and helping others,” said Erick Erickson, a conservative radio host based in Atlanta. “But it’s like a plane trying to land with a storm at the airport. It’s in a waiting pattern until Trump decides.”