Donald Trump vs. Mike Pence

At this point, there is little love lost between the former president and his veep. What happened?

Trump and Pence.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence have gone from unlikely allies to bitter rivals. What happened?

How did Trump's relationship with Pence begin?

Trump decided on Pence at the last minute. According to Politico, Trump "didn't particularly like Pence" when they first met, and "just four days before the [2016] Republican National Convention," the unlikely nominee "was still waffling on who to pick as his running mate." Pence was a top contender, but so were New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — the first 2016 presidential candidate to drop out to endorse Trump — and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was still angling for the job.

"I told [Trump] ... he could have two pirates on the ticket or a pirate and a relatively stable and normal person," Gingrich said during a Facebook Live Q&A. Trump liked the sound of that.

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Per Politico, the devout Pence helped Trump's poll numbers with evangelicals who were uncomfortable with the mogul's checkered past, but "Pence felt a lot like the medicine Trump didn't want to choke down." However, thanks to the machinations of Paul Manafort and a flat airplane tire that stranded Trump in Indianapolis for an extra night, choke it down he did.

Writing for The Week in 2019, Matthew Walther pointed out that Trump's barnstorming style and populist platform were always an odd match for Pence's plainspoken manner and passé neoconservatism. "This is exactly why Trump chose Pence to be his vice president. He is a throwback, and a useful one," Walther wrote.

What was Pence's role in Jan. 6?

Trump called Pence on the morning of Jan. 6 to urge him, one last time, not to certify President Biden's victory. Witnesses said Trump got "heated" and told Pence he would "either go down in history as a patriot" or as "a pussy."

Trump's pleas fell on deaf ears. In a letter to Congress, Pence rejected the idea that "the Founders of our country intended to invest the vice president with unilateral authority to decide which electoral votes should be counted."

When the Capitol riot began, several members of the mob chanted "hang Mike Pence," while others erected a makeshift gallows. When Trump heard the chants, he told White House staff that Pence "deserves" it, former aide Cassidy Hutchinson told the House committee investigating Jan. 6. As rioters stormed through the Capitol building, Trump tweeted that Pence "didn't have the courage to do what should have been done."

One White House security official testified that Pence's Secret Service detail began "to fear for their own lives" as they scrambled to secure an evacuation route for the vice president. "There were calls to say goodbye to family members, so on and so forth," the official said. Pence was taken to a secure location but refused to leave the Capitol complex entirely. Just after 8:00 p.m., Pence reconvened the Senate, and by 3:30 a.m., Biden's victory had been certified.

What has happened to their relationship since then?

Nothing good. Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) told CNN in February 2021 that Pence had spoken to him "very favorably about his relationship" with Trump, giving Banks "the sense they speak often and maintain the same personal friendship and relationship now that they have for four years."

Even if that was true at the time, it doesn't seem to be anymore. A little less than one year later, Pence told Fox News' Jesse Waters that he and the former president hadn't spoken since the previous summer. The following month Pence again rejected the idea that he could have handed the election to Trump. "I heard this week that President Trump said I had the right to 'overturn the election.' President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election," Pence said at a Federalist Society event. The idea "that any one person could choose the American president" is "un-American," he continued.

That spring Trump told the Washington Examiner that he had ruled out Pence as a 2024 running mate. "I don't think the people would accept it," Trump said, even as Pence himself began setting the stage for his own presidential run.

What's next for Pence and Trump?

With the 2024 campaign season shifting into gear, Pence and Trump have each ratcheted up their respective rhetoric against one another as both men vie for their party's presidential nomination. Since officially launching his campaign in June, Pence has made clear that there is little love lost between him and his former running mate, going so far as to leave open the possibility of testifying against Trump at his upcoming election fraud trial.

"Trump was wrong. He was wrong then. He's wrong now," Pence said in an interview with CBS' Face the Nation. "Trump asked me to put him over the Constitution that day, but I chose the Constitution." Still, speaking with a prospective supporter in New Hampshire this summer, Pence insisted he was "not interested in trading insults with my old friend" in order to win the GOP nomination. Pence has nevertheless faced increasingly hostile heckling from Trump supporters on the ground at various campaign stops in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Trump, for his part, has vacillated between treating his former veep as a serious threat to his current domination of the GOP field, or merely an afterthought in the wake of other, higher polling rivals. "Liddle' Mike Pence, a man who was about to be ousted as Governor Indiana until I came along and made him V.P., has gone to the Dark Side," Trump exclaimed on his Truth Social platform in August, in response to Pence's sharpened campaign barbs against his one-time ally. But Trump has also reserved his most frequent — and caustic — assaults for other Republican candidates who either represent a more viable challenge to his frontrunner status, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, or who have made a point of their own to attack the former president head on, like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Pence and Trump may have the opportunity to address one another face to face in late August, after the former vice president passed the minimum threshold to participate in the first Republican presidential debate. Despite enjoying a commanding lead over the GOP presidential field as a whole, it remains unclear whether Trump will actually participate in the upcoming debate. He has thus far refused to sign a prerequisite pledge to support the eventual Republican presidential nominee, and has eschewed the notion of participating in general given his significant lead, suggesting there's nothing to be gained by appearing onstage with his rivals. "It's not a question of guts," he explained to Newsmax's Eric Bolling. "It's a question of intelligence."

Is there precedent for presidents and vice presidents not getting along?

Plenty. In the early years of the republic, whoever received the second most electoral votes would become vice president. This led almost immediately to the acrimonious cohabitation of Federalist John Adams and Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson. Then, after attempting to steal the election of 1800, Aaron Burr allegedly tried to start his own country out west and ended up on trial for treason, with Jefferson "fully intending to hang" his former VP, Ranker noted.

The constitution was quickly amended to ensure that presidents could choose their own vice presidents, but egos still clashed. John C. Calhoun resigned as Andrew Jackson's vice president in 1832 after a dispute over states' rights. Jackson later threatened to "secede" Calhoun's head "from the rest of your body" if he attempted to lead South Carolina out of the Union. (This technically makes Trump at least the third president to have responded positively to the idea of his ticket-mate being executed).

Several other president-VP relationships were adversarial, but not life-threateningly so. Richard Johnson, who served under Martin Van Buren, was dropped from the ticket in 1840 after disappearing from D.C. for nine months to run a tavern in Kentucky. Franklin Roosevelt got himself drafted for a third term to avoid being succeeded by Vice President John Nance Garner, who opposed the New Deal. Al Gore and Bill Clinton left office on bad terms, with Gore blaming Clinton for his loss in the 2000 election.

Updated Aug. 14, 2023: This article has been updated throughout.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) as a congressman representing Arizona. This has since been corrected. We regret the error.

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