When Vice President Mike Pence flew to Europe as the stand-in for President Trump at the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, it appeared to be another sign that the famously fickle president trusted his vice president.
But Pence’s decision while in Ireland to stay at the Trump golf resort in Doonbeg, the area his grandfather emigrated from a century ago, caught Washington insiders as another act of fealty from a vice president derided at times as overly obsequious, even “oleaginous.”
On the surface, Trump and Pence insist they have a great relationship and are working closer than ever to win reelection in 2020. (They’ve consistently beaten back rumors that former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is in the running to replace Pence on the 2020 ticket.)
But behind the scenes, tensions have been mounting among Trump, Pence and their top advisers ever since the GOP’s resounding losses in the 2018 midterms. In the weeks afterward, Trump asked aides about replacing Pence on the ticket, and he asked again for their thoughts on Pence during his August vacation at his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., according to Trump advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about private discussions with the president.
Current and former Trump and Pence advisers interviewed for this story, as well as my forthcoming biography of Pence, “Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House,” consistently described a personal relationship between Trump and Pence that is warm but somewhat aloof. Pence has a lane that he sticks to in the White House — conservative social policy — but he is not considered to be as influential as people like Jared Kushner or Stephen Miller.
But the relationship between their political teams has soured greatly in the past year, according to a dozen Trump and Pence aides and Republican advisers familiar with the dynamic. In particular, rumors that Kushner and Ivanka Trump wanted to consider replacements for Pence — specifically trying to find a woman running mate to help win back the suburbs in 2020 — have worried the vice president’s camp, according to Trump and Pence campaign advisers who spoke on background for this story.
However, none of those advisers claimed to have heard Kushner or Ivanka Trump directly discuss Pence’s replacement, and a senior White House official categorically denied the couple had been involved in discussing changes to the 2020 ticket.
“This story has been shopped in multiple forms to multiple media outlets but was never run by the others because the sourcing didn’t hold up or withstand scrutiny. It is false,” said the senior White House official when asked about the anecdote.
And one Pence adviser noted that Trump has repeatedly told the vice president that he has nothing to worry about, and that stories of him possibly being removed from the ticket are “fake news.”
Regardless of the rumor mill, there do appear to be tensions between the Trump and Pence camps.
“The perception is that Pence’s team is difficult to work with,” one Trump adviser said.
The adviser noted that, in his talks with Trump, the president has occasionally asked what the adviser thinks of Pence and his aides. “That just doesn’t come up organically. Somebody is saying that to the president,” the adviser said.
“There are certain pockets out there that want to solve their problems by replacing the running mate,” said the Pence adviser. “But we’re on the team. We might be JV, but we’re helping reelect him.”
The Pence adviser noted that Trump would automatically keep the support of “transactional evangelicals” — televangelists like John Hagee and Jerry Falwell Jr., heir to the Moral Majority founded by his father. But Pence is essential to keeping quiet, less political evangelical voters in the fold for Trump.
“Mike Pence is an exemplary vice president and has played a valuable role in the administration. He will also be a key asset as President Trump’s running mate in 2020,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said in a statement to Yahoo News. “At the staff level, everyone works together as one seamless team with a singular focus: the reelection of President Trump and Vice President Pence in November 2020.”
The vice president’s office did not respond to a request for comment.