A new report that tries to interpret the future of the Republican Party if President Donald Trump remains in the White House until 2024 paints a picture of a budding rivalry between two popular Republicans — Vice President Mike Pence and former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
Although spokesmen for the two camps were at pains to downplay any tension, the Politico report, which draws heavily on sources it did not name, said followers of Haley and Pence are laying the groundwork for what might come after Trump leaves the political scene.
As Politico put it, “the opposing camps are closely tracking each other’s moves, and remain deeply suspicious of one another.”
Politico said the rising tensions are the backstory to a Twitter dustup earlier this month between Haley and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.
After Trump criticized Baltimore and Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings, whose Maryland district is in the city, Haley deplored the fuss.
This is so unnecessary. 🙄
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) August 2, 2019
“This is so unnecessary,” she tweeted.
Conway did not let that pass unanswered.
THIS is so unnecessary
— Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) August 2, 2019
“THIS is so unnecessary. Trump-PENCE2020,” Conway tweeted.
One source of hard feeling, according to the report, was that Haley was slow to disavow an opinion piece published by The Wall Street Journal in June that urged Trump to replace Pence with her. She finally did so recently, at roughly the same time Politico said it was writing about the Pence-Haley tensions.
Enough of the false rumors. Vice President Pence has been a dear friend of mine for years. He has been a loyal and trustworthy VP to the President. He has my complete support. ❤️🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/waPyQjC8Eb
— Nikki Haley (@NikkiHaley) August 21, 2019
“This foolish talk about the vice presidency has gone on for a long time. Ambassador Haley preferred to avoid it altogether,” Haley spokeswoman Chaney Denton told Politico. “It was only when the subject kept coming up over and over, including this week, that she decided it made sense to address it.”
Erick Erickson, a conservative commentator, said rumors about a possible switch had become a source of irritation unto themselves.
“I do think there are people in Trump-world who question her loyalty now,” he said. “And so making sure they see her as loyal is a good thing and getting out there and defending the vice president about rumors that are circulating behind the scenes isn’t a bad thing for her to do.”
Others said some sort of rivalry is to be expected.
“The two of them have absolutely been friends and worked well together over the years, but you have to suspend disbelief to say that their relationship going forward won’t be viewed within the context of the presidential election after next,” said Rob Godfrey, a former Haley aide while she was governor of South Carolina.
The report said Pence advisers believe Haley wants to become president, linking a future campaign to her fundraising tour and the formation of “Stand for America,” a political advocacy group.
But David McIntosh, president of the Club for Growth, said anyone hoping to be a leader in 20204 needs to prove themselves in 2020.
“I know where Pence comes out on it, that’s exactly what he’s doing. I would hope — and Haley’s a smart politician so I think she would get it — that that’s her key task right now as well,” said McIntosh, a longtime Pence ally.
Denton said Haley “committed to helping get the Trump-Pence ticket re-elected, and to helping Republicans hold the Senate majority and win back the House. All of her political efforts this year are about the 2020 elections.”
In a statement to Politico, Pence Chief of Staff Marc Short said, “The Vice President has enormous respect for Nikki Haley , and she was an excellent ambassador for the Trump-Pence agenda during her one year at the UN.”
Haley was U.N. ambassador for almost two years — from her confirmation in January 2017 to Dec. 31, 2018.
Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly said he has no plans to dump Pence.
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