Omarosa Is Right: Why President Pence Could Be More Terrifying Than Trump
“We would be begging for days of Trump back if Pence became president,” the former White House aide warned.
Rattled by Donald Trump’s candidacy, the Republican Party was, to a degree, placated by the addition of “full-spectrum conservative” Mike Pence to the presidential ticket. As Trump’s administration has run roughshod over governmental norms, Pence has maintained his role as G.O.P. security blanket, even earning kudos from Democrats who see him as, if not a welcome alternative to
Trump, at least someone unlikely to punt the nuclear football in a fit of rage.
But according to former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, the idea that Pence—who is, conveniently, the only person in the administration Trump can’t fire—would be an improvement is sorely misguided. “As bad as y’all think Trump is, you would be worried about Pence,” Newman said on the latest episode of Celebrity Big Brother. “I’m just going to say that. So everybody that’s wishing for impeachment, might want to reconsider their life.” Newman, whose relationship with Trump dates back to the Apprentice and who was fired by White House chief of staff John Kelly last year, went on: “We would be begging for days of Trump back if Pence became president, that’s all I’m saying.”
Newman is hardly the first to grimace at the prospect of President Pence. Trump critics tend to focus on his superior emotional intelligence (a low bar where Trump is concerned), but a deep dive into his gubernatorial record does little to instill confidence in his governing abilities. In Indiana, Pence rose to prominence due to a series of religiously tinged missteps including signing an unconstitutional anti-abortion bill and botching the handling of an H.I.V. outbreak. When he was tapped as Trump’s running mate, Pence was battling middling approval ratings and bracing for a brutal re-election campaign. “As far as running a government? I think that the Indiana experience is pretty clear. That was not his strong suit,” Michael Leppert, a Democratic lobbyist in Indiana, told me last year. “I think in retrospect, politician, yeah, he’s pretty good at that. Governing, not so much.”
Pence’s evangelical fervor is of concern to Newman, who described him as an extremist. (“I’m Christian. I love Jesus, but he thinks Jesus tells him to say things. And I’m like, ‘Jesus ain’t say that.’ He’s scary.”) More terrifying, however, for those inclined to fear such things, is Pence’s devotion to the Republican donor class. “If Pence were to become president for any reason, the government would be run by the Koch brothers—period,” Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse told The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer last year. “He’s been their tool for years.” Before his excommunication from Trumpworld, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said he was “concerned” that Pence would be “a president that the Kochs would own.”
So far, Pence’s relative sanity and ability to stick to the script have shielded him from closer examination. “Now his message might be wrong. His message might be inaccurate. But he sticks to it,” Leppert told me. “He will stick to it, and he doesn’t veer, and he doesn’t turn around and change course, and sticking to the script is something that not a lot of politicians are skilled at.” In an administration where chaos is the norm, it’s a habit the sets Pence apart. Democrats have little ammo left to worry about Pence, who has demonstrated an uncanny ability to avoid the pitfalls that have jeopardized the president. Republicans, too, seem to understand that Pence is safer the less he is seen. “No one, it seems, has the heart to go after Pence in force, because somebody has to be around to take over if the boss makes an early exit,” my colleague T.A. Frank noted last week.
Whether Pence can maintain that squeaky-clean facade, as he steps more frequently into the spotlight, is a balancing act that may augur his own presidential ambitions. Coming off his trip to lead the Olympic delegation in Pyeongchang, Pence will embark on a three-month cross-country tour to stump for Republican candidates and raise funds as part of a broader G.O.P. effort to hold onto its majorities in both houses of Congress. If Pence’s mission fails, the threat of impeachment proceedings may become all too real. But at the very least, the Republican Party can be comforted by the fact that the vice president will be far away from the scandal-plagued West Wing for the next several months and, arguably, better positioned to ascend to the Oval Office. What he would do from behind the Resolute desk remains an open question.