For just a fleeting moment this past weekend, it looked as if Mike Pence might escape from his decaying orbit around Donald Trump with what is left of his dignity intact.
Talk of Pence’s escape came amidst the weekend of fallout over the leak of Trump speaking on a hot-mic about his treatment of women he finds attractive, in the process revealing an attitude towards the opposite sex so gross and demeaning that even a Neanderthal might say, “Whoa dude, that’s over the top.” The tape was the breaking point for many Republican officeholders who had long grown weary of the candidate and his smoking ruin of a campaign. Quite a few took advantage of the moment to officially withdraw their support, suggesting Trump should quit the race and Pence should replace him at the top of the ticket.
Had Pence made a statement that of course he would not accede to a plan that subverted the will of Republican voters who had made Trump the nominee, he might have tamped down at least that part of the crisis. Instead, having condemned the remarks and saying that he was grateful Trump had “expressed remorse” over his comments, he mostly disappeared.
That left only rumors. Ashley Parker of the New York Times reported that Pence called Trump and told him he was on his own for the next 48 hours. The vice presidential nominee’s schedule of upcoming campaign appearances, including flying to Wisconsin to take Trump’s place at a festival with House Speaker Paul Ryan on Saturday, disappeared from the Trump campaign website. When Trump holed up inside his eponymous New York skyscraper to confer with advisors about handling the crisis, Pence was not there, though as a longtime politician he certainly could have had some good advice to offer.
By the time of the debate on Sunday night, rumors were spreading that Pence would quit the ticket on Monday. They were exacerbated when, during the debate, moderator Martha Raddatz mentioned to Trump that his position on what America should do about the Syria crisis differed from his vice president’s. Trump fixed her with a stern squint and said “He and I haven’t spoken, and I disagree” in a voice so icy you could have played hockey on it.
But minutes after the end of Sunday night’s debate — a grotesque spectacle that saw Trump threaten to jail his opponent, all but stamp his feet over what he claimed was moderator bias in Clinton’s favor, and generally act like a toddler who doesn’t want to go to bed — Pence was tweeting out his congratulations to the candidate “on a big debate win.” By Monday he was stumping hard in North Carolina, and telling several television interviewers he had never considered quitting the ticket.