It’s Trump vs. Pence in Georgia, Though Neither Is on the Ballot

An old saying states that if you stand still long enough in front of the river, you will eventually see your enemy’s body floating by. The advice here is patience, something Donald Trump has never displayed in his long, arduous career as Angry Man of Television. He seems to spend a lot of time at that rhetorical river; his enemies keep bouncing past him like strange fish and not one of them goes unremarked upon.

Mike Pence, a former vice president who was the target of the Trump-crazy crowd that overtook the Capitol on January 6, is the latest in the drink. Trump spent that fateful morning hanging a pork chop around Pence’s neck before shoving him into shark tank:

Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn’t, that will be a, a sad day for our country because you’re sworn to uphold our Constitution. Now it is up for Congress to confront this egregious assault against our democracy. And after this, we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down, we’re going to walk down. Anyone you want, but I think right here, we’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong…. I hope Mike has the courage to do what he has to do.”

… and in the intervening months, Trump has veered from offering Pence backhanded praise to accusing him of outright disloyalty for continuing to claim he had no right to do as he’d been ordered to and overturn the election. Pence’s retelling of that day’s tale paints him as a beleaguered hero. He spent that morning trying to find a reason to do as Trump asked. Only the intervention of Dan Quayle, the former Vice President, kept the country from spiraling into post-constitutional chaos.

Pence has quietly worked his way into a position that could enable him to run in the presidential election of 2024. If he can convince himself that he had a chance to win while Trump is still on the planet, this will be possible. Trump, you see, has Pence’s number, and he has it cold: Pence was on his way toward becoming just another forgotten Indiana governor when Trump tapped him to serve as a body shield for evangelical voters. Trump’s many sins fly around him vividly like a flock of Tippi Hedron’s birds, and the only way he could court that vote was by pulling Pence onto the bandwagon. It worked, and now Trump gets to say he “made” Pence. He’s not wrong.

Jump to Monday on the eve the all-important Georgia primaries, where the Kemp v. Purdue race has become a spectacle for internal GOP strife. Trump’s Trump wing of the party has backed Perdue while the slowly growingMake The Bad Man Stop” wing has piled in behind Kemp. Unless something happens, Kemp seems ready to win in the walk with Pence at His side. This is not good news for the former president.

Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich became the vent in Trump’s spleen, reminding reporters that Pence was “set to lose a governor’s race in 2016 before he was plucked up and his political career was salvaged. Pence is now parachuting into races in an attempt to regain his lost relevance. The reality is, President Trump is already 82-3 with his endorsements, and there’s nothing stopping him from saving America in 2022 and beyond.”

Here was bog-standard Trumpian tough talk, to be sure, but the potentially ominous overtones of today’s vote in Georgia cannot be sidestepped, even by someone as adept at self-gaslighting as Trump.

“A strong win by Mr. Kemp would be the most promising signal to date that many Republican voters, at least in Georgia, are ready to move on — not from Mr. Trump per se, but from his toxic fixation on 2020,” reports The New York Times. “It could also provide a hopeful model for other results-oriented Republican governors, evidence that they can thrive even without bowing to the former president’s anti-democratic obsessions. And if Mr. Trump plays things wrong, he could wind up damaging his own political fortunes as well.”

Pence was a little white-haired lab mouse the entire time he stood in Trump’s shadow during the administration, and his overall demeanor has not changed much since. Trump may run if he is unable to repair his injuries or if there is more evidence that the base is ready for change. Both options are not convincingly open at the moment.

Me? I think Pence’s emergence this week makes it all the more likely that Trump will run for president again in 2024. It doesn’t matter how much money or legal cover he has to get. His ego demands nothing less. Trump could label candidates Ron DeSantis and Mike Pence traitors and betrayers if they challenge him. If no challenging candidates step forward, if Trump clears the field, he may well deliver a “See I Told You!” speech before relaunching his campaign.

That’s about all the clarity we can muster at this juncture. The GOP is currently in weird flux, and Georgia will not be the last. If you’re looking for Trump, he’ll be down by that river waiting for familiar faces to float by. He knows they’re coming; they always do.