Donald Trump and Mike Pence
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

This is odd. The New York Times is reporting that the president is suddenly preoccupied with Mike Pence:

In recent weeks, with his electoral prospects two years from now much on his mind, Mr. Trump has focused on the person who has most publicly tethered his fortunes to him. In one conversation after another he has asked aides and advisers a pointed question: Is Mike Pence loyal?

Mr. Trump has repeated the question so many times that he has alarmed some of his advisers. The president has not openly suggested dropping Mr. Pence from the ticket and picking another running mate, but the advisers say those kinds of questions usually indicate that he has grown irritated with someone.

I can envision an almost infinite number of reasons someone might find Mike Pence irritating but it’s curious why this is cropping up now. Obviously, Trump always has the option of choosing a different running mate for 2020 if he gets that far and sees some advantage in it, but I somehow doubt that this is the reason he’s obsessed with the loyalty question.

The article mentions that Trump is seriously considering replacing his own chief of staff with Nick Ayers, who currently has the position with the vice-president, so perhaps this is his weird way of vetting Ayers. That’s one possibility.

Another possibility is that Trump is worried about whether he’ll survive whatever is coming from Robert Mueller and wants to know if Pence might be inclined to give him a quick shove out the door if the opportunity presents itself. It would not shock me, actually, if there is a pro-Pence cabal forming in the aftermath of the midterm elections, so this is perhaps not that far-fetched.

Based on Trump’s recent obsession with the Mueller probe, I believe he has some inside knowledge about what is about to go down, so I am leaning towards this as the likeliest explanation.

There is one other scenario that could be in play here, but I find it doubtful. Trump could be worried that Pence is giving information to Mueller’s investigators or that he will contradict him after he provides his written answers to the Special Counsel’s inquiries. In this case, he could be concerned primarily about what kind of lies he can safely tell.

Whatever the explanation, it does seem to indicate that paranoia is beginning to take a grip on Trump, although it’s not paranoia if Pence is actually angling for his job. On that front, I think he probably is, although he also knows that the base supports Trump and will punish him if he’s seen as working to usurp him.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at