Since the publication last week of the Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, speculation has been rampant about who may have written it. Reports are that Trump is becoming even more unhinged as he sees his little empire of sycophants crumbling around him. He has demanded that the NYT reveal the author of the piece, so that he or she may be both prosecuted and persecuted as a traitor. And laughingly, the White House has not been able to whittle down the list of prospective suspects beyond anyone outside of Trump’s immediate family.
So, who did author the Op-Ed? Initial speculation was that it was none other than Mike Pence, due in large part to the use of the word, “loadstar,” which he has used routinely and which is otherwise not common in the vernacular. Of course, if you wanted to make it look like someone in particular had written the piece, if you wanted to “frame” someone for the job, what better way to do so than to use a word or phrase associated commonly with that person? Pence, of course, has vehemently denied writing the piece. But you know what? If you think about it, he also has the most to gain.
Pence wants to be President in order to further his own far-right (far-out) religious agenda and to create a Christian Sharia state. But as vice-president, the odds are actually stacked against him. We often think of the VP as the natural successor to the President, once the President’s term (or the President) has expired. But it is far more likely that the VP will vanish into obscurity, largely because American politics is prone to pendulum swings from one political position to its opposite. It seems that Americans can certainly get more than enough of a “good thing.” If we take a minute to look at it historically, you will see that Pence’s best shot, by far, is to become President without being elected, try to straighten out the ship of state’s course, and then win a re-election on his own merits.
Herbert Hoover presided over the stock market crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression. For obvious reasons, he wasn’t going to get re-elected or be succeeded by his VP (Charles Curtis). FDR became the president and was succeeded by his fourth VP, Harry Truman, on FDR’s death, 82 days after the election. Truman served out that term, showed himself a competent administrator, and then was re-elected. But by 1953, the nation had tired of the Korean War and the firing of Douglas MacArthur, and had swung back to the Republicans and Dwight Eisenhower. Truman’s VP, Alben Barkley, never ascended to the presidency.
Eisenhower served two terms, setting up his VP, Richard Nixon, for his shot, but Nixon lost out to the swinging pendulum as it moved toward the left and JFK. Lyndon Johnson, with a well earned reputation for shady politicking, succeeded Kennedy on Kennedy’s death. With the country still reeling from the Kennedy assassination, LBJ was elected to the presidency in 1964 for his first and only term. His VP, Hubert Humphrey, never became President, as the national pendulum swung back to the Republicans, Nixon, and his promise to end the war in Viet Nam.
Of course, Nixon was later forced to resign in disgrace on the heels of Watergate, paving the way for his own VP, Gerald Ford, to become President and incur the wrath of the nation. Ford could not get re-elected as Jimmy Carter won in 1976. His VP, Walter Mondale, went down with Carter’s sinking ship as the economy plummeted, and Carter was replaced with Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Reagan’s VP, the lone outlier on this list, was the first George Bush, and he managed to win the election for President in 1988, serving through 1992. But by then, the country was ready to swing in a new direction and Bush’s VP, the spelling challenged Dan Quayle, was soon relegated to a “Jeopardy” answer. Bill Clinton becomes president in 1993 and lasts for two terms, but the scandals of his tenure and the meaning of “is” doomed the inventor of the internet, Al Gore, to the loss of his own chance to play President.
You can see how the pattern develops. George Bush MKII takes over from Clinton and eight years later, Dick Cheney has shot his wad and alienated every voter with a pulse. In a startling display of acumen (almost worthy of a President), he has the smarts not to even run. Barack Obama spends eight years trying to convince us that he is a liberal, while furthering an establishment agenda remarkably similar to that of the Republicans, and Joe Biden watches his chance to become President vanish when the entire Democratic Party is sold for pennies on the dollar to the Clintons, who run the family business right into the ground.
Now, we have Trump, the Friday the 13th of all administrations. And Mike Pence is no doubt, looking at history and seeing that his own chance, slim at best from the start, is assuredly slipping away. As the nation waits for “Marlin Perkins and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” to shoot Trump with a tranquilizer and cart him away to a suitable zoological institution, Pence must realize that his only chance to become President is to negotiate a particularly difficult trifecta. First, he has to get Trump out of office before his term expires, so that Pence can become President without benefit of clergy or an actual vote. Second, he has to do so in such a way that he can position himself as savior of the country and of his own party, earning at least a short-term measure of good will on the part of the electorate, heading into the 2020 elections. Then, betting the farm on the very real possibility that the Democrats will continue to disenfranchise their own base by ignoring the Progressive Movement and the will of the people, a carefully managed 2020 campaign of attack ads will keep enough voters at home for the Republican faithful to eek out a victory, declare it a mandate, and move full throttle forward in a return to the 1950’s.
So, did Pence write the Op-Ed? How the hell should I know? He will continue to deny it right up until his coronation. It is possible that he did, and it is possible that someone even higher up than Pence or Trump was behind it, moving pieces on the chess board to keep extending the game and force the kind of stalemate which guarantees business as usual. But one thing we have seen out of this administration is that none of them ever seem to exercise the good sense to keep their own mouth’s shut. Stay tuned, for time will tell. In the end, the great irony is that Mike Pence could play the role of Judas to Trump’s own delusion that he is the return of the Christ.