Speed Reads

Pence Watch

Pence's new chief of staff is preparing him for a post-Trump future, not a Trump challenge

When Vice President Mike Pence brought on veteran Republican political operative Nick Ayers as his new chief of staff last month, about the time President Trump replaced Reince Priebus with new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, few people noticed. But The New York Times did, and Pence's Ayers hire was one of the data points the newspaper used to build a case that Pence is the leading "shadow candidate" lining up to replace Trump in 2020, along with Pence forming his own PAC, schmoozing with big-money political donors, and speaking at key conservative events. Pence dismissed the suggestion as "laughable and absurd."

The "sharp-elbowed" Ayers, 34, is a departure from the chief of staff he replaced, "Josh Pitcock, the long-serving Pence aide distinguished by his quiet and inoffensive manner," Politico's Eliana Johnson reported Tuesday night. And he is finally making Pence a power player in the warring Trump White House. But Pence still plans on being a team player, Johnson adds:

Ayers' hire, according to interviews with eight current and former administration officials, was less about a secret campaign to challenge Trump in 2020 and more about helping the vice president — who, at just 58, has a political future ahead of him in the post-Trump era — preserve his future political options, whatever they may be. A veteran political operative, Ayers had for months been quietly warning the vice president that Trump's troubles could cause collateral damage and that he needed to take a more aggressive posture on a range of issues to ensure he enters the post-Trump era on solid ground. [Politico]

Ayers was the liaison between Trump's and Pence's camps during the campaign, and is well-liked by Trump and his inner circle, Politico reports, adding that he didn't join the White House earlier because of "a long-running feud with Priebus."

"Few believe there's a conceivable chance that Pence — whose loyalty to Trump has at times bordered on obsequiousness — would launch a primary campaign against him in 2020," Johnson says. "But there's little doubt the 58-year-old vice president harbors ambitions for a political future after Trump," and "Ayers is around to ensure that if Trump is out of the picture for one reason or another his man will be ready." You can read more about Pence's real power play at Politico.