They’re Fawning All Over Trump. In Private, They’re Seeking Out Mike Pence.

They’re Fawning All Over Trump. In Private, They’re Seeking Out Mike Pence.

With the GOP presidential primary over in all but name, a huge group of GOP politicians are already vying to be Donald Trump’s running mate. And as they begin jockeying behind the scenes, they’re turning to a surprising source for advice: former Vice President Mike Pence’s team.

Following Trump’s win in Iowa, intermediaries for Rep. Elise Stefanik, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Sen. Tim Scott have all sought out meetings with a former adviser to Pence this year, asking for intel on how to survive the gantlet of being vetted in a Trump veepstakes. Pence may be roadkill in the Trump universe after their acrimonious breakup at the end of 2020 — and Pence’s ill fated, short-lived presidential campaign last year — but other Republicans hoping to win over Trump are happy to feast on his carrion.

“After everybody started getting out, everybody slowly saw the handwriting on the wall, I started getting phone calls from people who were thinking about, ‘How do we position ourselves?’” said a member of Pence’s political team who has worked to keep a foot planted in Trump world, granted anonymity to speak freely about the conversations.

The talks have been, this person said, preliminary. But that they’re even happening — and that the principals and key staffers involved don’t want anyone to know they’re happening — signal just how politicians are competing but don’t want to be too obvious about their aspirations.

“For the most part, it’s been like ‘Hey, we aren’t really having this conversation,’ and then like, ‘Walk us through it,’” said this person. (A Pence spokesperson declined to comment). Less thirsty but still in the mix is Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s former press secretary. “I don’t get the sense she’s actively pursuing anything,” the Pence world insider said. She’s in touch with the insider but hasn’t explicitly brought up the vice presidency.

The early advice the Pence insider gives them: “Look at ways to add value,” this person said. “Find ways to be helpful, whether that’s raising money, being a surrogate on the ground or on TV. Be visible to Trump world so they see that you’re helping the cause. And then I think it’s figuring out who you can build relationships within Trump’s orbit — because that’s an ever-shifting orbit.” Some of the questions have been pretty open ended: How does this all work? How many years of taxes should the principal be gathering?

The behind the scenes maneuvering comes as public posturing against Pence has become an early litmus test in the veepstakes. Given Trump’s continued baseless complaints about the outcome of the 2020 election, Pence has been attacked for refusing to use his ceremonial role in the Senate to interfere with the election results and try to block Joe Biden from being certified as president on Jan 6. 2021. “I would not have done what Mike Pence did,” Stefanik said earlier this month on CNN. “I don’t think that was the right approach.”

Openly campaigning for the job of vice president is considered poor form. But that hasn’t stopped many of these candidates from doing so this weekend at the Conservative Political Action Coalition confab at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. The event featured Stefanik, Noem, Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, and Vivek Ramaswamy, and the Pence world insider confirmed he expected to meet directly with at least Noem during her time in D.C.

A spokesperson for Stefanik did not respond to a request for comment. A person close to Scott said there had been no such outreach or communications. A Noem spokesman said “No such conversations have taken place. There is no truth to these claims.” A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to a question about whether backchanneling with Pence allies would hurt a candidate’s prospects.

There’s a reason they’re coming to a Pence consigliere, of course. Sure, M-i-k-e is now a four-letter word in Trump’s circles, but not long before Jan. 6, and the “hang Mike Pence” chants, Pence was still considered something of a Trump whisperer. Pence and his advisers expertly navigated an Apprentice-like final competition to win a spot on Trump’s ticket. In the summer of 2016, Newt Gingrich flew to Indianapolis on Sean Hannity’s plane to square off against Pence in dueling final interviews with Trump. Meanwhile, Pence and his wife ordered a breakfast quiche from a local grocer and picked flowers from the Indiana governor’s residence at midnight to charm Trump, Ivanka and Don Jr. over brunch later that morning. “It apparently made an impression,” Pence wrote in his memoir So Help Me God.

Though Pence himself is radioactive to large portions of Trump’s base, his close circle of advisers — particularly those who have maintained ties to both camps in the divorce — are a valuable resource to potential vice presidential picks. They know what it’s like to navigate the topsy-turvy Trump orbit.

Chasing a spot on the ballot beneath Trump is like participating in a greased pig contest, with a lot of mud and missed opportunities. It will be filled with mercurial and capricious twists and turns, the Pence insider acknowledged.

“Look, things can change in 100 different ways,” this person said. “Some of that’s beyond your control, you can’t control this, can you be helpful? And can you help him win? And I think that if you can showcase that in some form or fashion, then I think people are going to take notice.”

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