Politics & Policy

Mr. Vice President: Please Help the President Get His Act Together

(Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
You are one person whom he can’t fire.

Dear Vice President Pence,

I hope you’re holding up under the strain.

I hope you don’t mind me writing to you like this, but as one of those conservatives who were somewhat reassured by Donald Trump’s decision to put you on the ticket, I feel compelled to ask: What’s the endgame here?

Retired general Michael Flynn, the president’s first national-security adviser, was reportedly fired for misleading you about his conversations with the Russians. But last week, you were apparently misled about the president’s reasons for firing the FBI director.

Four times you said James Comey was terminated on the recommendation of the deputy attorney general, who criticized how Comey handled the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation during last year’s campaign. Then the president told NBC’s Lester Holt that the recommendation had nothing to do with it. It was all about the Russia investigation.

Maybe you weren’t misled. Maybe you were part of the deception. But I’d like to think that’s not the case.

Either way, is this really what you had in mind when you took the job?

I wouldn’t dare appeal to you as a man of devout Christian faith; that’s not my job. (It’s also particularly awkward for a guy named Goldberg.) Nor do I see much point in blathering on about patriotism. I know you’re a patriot with an abiding love for your country.

So let’s talk about your ambition.

Ambition is not necessarily a dirty word. The Founders thought that ambition more than almost anything else would preserve our system of checks and balances and safeguard our liberty.

I have to assume you accepted your position at least partly for the same reason many of your predecessors did: to get you closer to the top job.

I’m not privy to what’s happening behind the scenes, but from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t look like it’s going too well.

The best way for you to be elected president is for Trump to have a successful presidency while maintaining your own credibility as a successor. That’s easier said than done. There’s a reason only two VPs (Martin Van Buren and George H. W. Bush) have been elected straight to the Oval Office since the passage of the Twelfth Amendment in 1804. You need the 2024 election to be a referendum on the Trump presidency, with a majority of voters wanting to stay the course.

It’s early yet, but may I ask: How’s that going? I’m not privy to what’s happening behind the scenes, but from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t look like it’s going too well.

The Comey fiasco doesn’t help the president, and your apparent willingness to abet his misbehavior doesn’t help you. The latest firestorm over allegations the president revealed classified information to the Russians is still raging and many questions remain, but the controversy certainly underscores concerns about the president’s ad hoc approach to the job.

I understand that the vice presidency is an awkward position under the best of circumstances. It’s a bit like the Newark Airport of constitutional offices, mostly famous for the bad things people say about it. John Nance Garner, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first vice president, said it wasn’t “worth a warm bucket of,” well, historians debate which bodily byproduct he mentioned. Harry S. Truman, FDR’s third vice president, said the office was “about as useful as a cow’s fifth teat.”

If that was once true, it isn’t any longer. As you like to say, Trump threw away the old playbook. You have a role to play beyond acting like a campaign flunky, praising the president at every turn as a man of action displaying his “broad-shouldered leadership.”

There’s room to do more on your own shoulders.

Much of the president’s power is derived from what Teddy Roosevelt called the “bully pulpit,” or what legendary political scientist Richard Neustadt called the “power to persuade.” In today’s media landscape, you have an especially potent bully pulpit, because you’re the one person the president cannot fire.

I don’t think you should resign in response to the president hanging you out to dry in the Comey affair, but threatening to do so if he plays you for a patsy again might — just might — help the president get his act together, which would be good for you, the party, and the country. You are also the tiebreaker in the Senate, which means something given the GOP’s precariously thin majority.

The president claims to value loyalty, but we know he respects strength. For your sake and the country, maybe it’s time to show some.


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