It was the kind of performance that has made Mike Pence’s career.
Speaking with reporters yesterday in Arizona—his voice slow with that wholesome midwestern drawl, his eyebrows lifted more in sorrow than in anger—the vice president came valiantly to the defense of his persecuted boss amid growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart. “One of the main reasons we were elected to Washington, D.C., was to drain the swamp,” Pence explained, sounding perfectly sincere as he recast Trump’s efforts to pressure a foreign government into investigating his political rival as a bold stand against corruption.
Such ostentatious displays of water-carrying are not new for Pence. But this time the stakes were higher. The Washington Post had recently published a story citing anonymous “officials close to Pence” who appeared to be distancing him from Trump’s escalating Ukraine scandal. To many observers in Washington—myself included—the story was evidence that the two men were not entirely on the same page. Pence’s maneuvering yesterday may have temporarily deflated that narrative, but it also illuminated the fraught nature of his relationship with Trump.
In any embattled White House, an ambitious vice president can run the risk of turning radioactive. Every word he utters in public is dissected, every move searched for signs of a coming coup. Pence, of course, has labored strenuously to perform his loyalty to Trump. But with an impeachment battle raging, and a president burrowing deeper each day into paranoid bunker mode, the fragility of their partnership could soon be on full display.