Pence 2020 Stories Follow Media Formula for Stirring White House Drama

VP campaign speculation is latest press effort to sow distrust between Trump and aides

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 21 Nov 2017 at 9:08 AM

Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday blasted the “disgraceful and offensive” report The New York Times published Sunday that claimed he is gearing up for a 2020 presidential bid of his own, saying that those allegations “are categorically false and represent just the latest attempt by the media to divide this administration.”

Pence was responding to the widely-shared article titled “Republican shadow campaign for 2020 takes shape as Trump doubts grow,” and written by Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns. In the report, the writers alleged that the vice president was preparing to upstage President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection while Trump’s approval-rating numbers dwindle in the 30s. Calling Pence a “pacesetter,” Martin and Burns wrote that while “it is customary for vice presidents to keep a full political calendar, he has gone a step further, creating an independent power base, cementing his status as Mr. Trump’s heir apparent and promoting himself as the main conduit between the Republican donor class and the administration.”

Pence reacted strongly to The Times' report in a statement released Sunday, saying that the article "is disgraceful and offensive to me, my family, and our entire team."

"The allegations in this article are categorically false and represent just the latest attempt by the media to divide this administration," he said. "The American people know that I could not be more honored to be working side by side with a president who is making America great again."

"Whatever fake news may come our way, my entire team will continue to focus all our efforts to advance the President's agenda and see him re-elected in 2020," Pence continued. "Any suggestion otherwise is both laughable and absurd."

The Times' report that Pence is preparing for Trump's downfall and eyeing the top slot on the 2020 GOP ticket appears to be the latest example of the mainstream media's strategy to undermine the president and sow discord between him and his top aides and officials. Ever since Trump took office on January 20, the left-leaning press has thrived on speculation about the status of Trump aides and officials and their relationships with one another, as well as with the commander-in-chief. And now the media have turned to Pence.

Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the President, told ABC News' "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that Trump "says privately and publicly often' that he'll be in office "for seven and a half more years," calling the Times story on Pence's scheming "complete fiction."

"And I want to make a remark about Vice President Pence. I've worked with him for 10 years as his pollster, as a senior adviser, and certainly work with him daily in the White House," she said. "It is absolutely true that the vice president is getting ready for 2020 — for reelection as vice president."

Conway added that she has "zero concern" that Pence is plotting to go behind Trump's back and snatch 2020.

"That is complete fiction. That is complete fabrication. And I know that his advisers who had comments attributed to them have pushed back strongly, as has the vice president. And as am I right now, unequivocally," she said. "Vice President Pence is a very loyal, very dutiful, but also incredibly effective vice president, and active vice president, with this president."

But The Times' scrutiny of Pence fits a pattern of speculation concerning Trump's associates. Although Trump hasn't weighed in publicly yet on the Pence rumors, the media-driven narrative of the rise and fall of the president's various officials often goads Trump to weigh in on individual cases.

Trump was reportedly infuriated when Time magazine published a February issue with White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon displayed on the cover beside the title, "Is Steve Bannon the Second Most Powerful Man in the World?" The New York Times reported back in April that Trump was frustrated with the heightened emphasis on Bannon and his influence in the White House. The article also surfaced during the height of the media's interest in the reported feuding between Bannon — a conservative populist — and Trump's more moderate son-in-law, senior adviser Jared Kushner.

The Times highlighted the "marginalization" of Bannon within the White House and how Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, "have emerged as President Trump's most important advisers, at least for now." In addition, the New York Post reported that Trump said, "Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will."

"I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late," Trump said in the Post interview as he minimized Bannon's role in the 2016 election and refused to say whether or not he still had confidence in Bannon. "I had already beaten all the senators and all the governors, and I didn’t know Steve ... I’m my own strategist, and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary [Clinton]."

Although reports of Bannon and Kushner feuding and vying to top each other's influence over Trump never led to any concrete changes, the president's son-in-law wasn't immune to Trump's commentary, either. After Kushner graced the cover of Time magazine in late May with the title, "The Good Son: The Trials of Jared Kushner," Trump also weighed in on the story highlighting his son-in-law's sway over his administration.

"Jared has actually become much more famous than me — I'm a little upset at that," Trump said at the White House in early June prior to a meeting with GOP congressional leaders.

After the president's communications team offered conflicting accounts of the reasoning behind Trump's abrupt decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey back in May, The Times reported that Trump lectured the staff to "get on the same page." The president also has undermined or contradicted statements made by either former White House press secretary Sean Spicer or his successor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, through tweets following their press briefings.

Although Trump hasn't yet publicly undercut Pence following The Times' Sunday report, this latest entry in the media's quest to hyper-analyze Trump's relationships with his underlings serves to further cloud an administration dealing with a hostile press and an ongoing Russia investigation.

(photo credit, homepage and article images: Gage Skidmore, Flickr)

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