“I’m not sure (he spoke) with the strength of a man who is sure these suits will work,” the friend told CNN.
It’s a typical vice president position: playing a dedicated soldier while turning away from the more provocative rhetoric from his boss.
“The tightrope will continue,” said a longtime Pence adviser. “He was good at it, and he’s going to have to keep doing it.”
And according to conversations with seven Republicans close to Pence, the vice president remains committed to Trump. Not only is this part of Pence’s loyal behavior, but it is also key to what the sources say are Pence’s big ambitions to run for the presidency in 2024.
Pence and those around him had long hoped that his loyalty would bear fruit and position him as a natural successor to Trump.
And according to those close to him, Pence is well aware that as long as Trump is manipulating the idea of running again, he will have no way to the White House himself.
“It’s clear that it has come a long way over the past four years,” a Pence adviser told CNN of the continued loyalty of the vice president. “But Mike Pence’s candidacy in four years is crucial to what the president wants to do.”
“Needs to work”
It’s not entirely clear what Pence’s immediate plans for once he leaves office – even where he will live. For nearly eight years, since moving into the governor’s home in Indianapolis in early 2013, Pence and his wife, Karen, have lived in government housing. His close friend said his first business was finding a permanent place to sleep at night.
People close to Pence who spoke to CNN believed he was more likely to move to Indiana than to stay around Washington. The vice president’s office declined to comment for this story.
After nearly 20 years of earning a government paycheck, and serving six terms as a member of the US Congress before serving four years as governor of Indiana, Pence will need to make some money.
“He needs to act,” said one senior Republican familiar with the White House.
John Thompson, the former Pence spokesman for the Trump campaign, says he will have options.
“Most of the ex-Presidents and Vice Presidents have written a book,” Thompson said. “He could raise money through that. Maybe he’d look at giving paid speeches.”
“He’ll definitely have options to do that, which is what both presidents and former vice presidents, Democrats and Republicans have done.”
Pence is also likely to remain an active Republican defender, regardless of what Trump decides.
Thompson said, “He could spend the next two years traveling the country, giving speeches, attending Republican events and fundraising, and maintaining an active and high profile while making his decision on whether he wants to run.”
Road to 2024?
Despite being vice president, Pence remains a black horse for the 2024 nomination. Other figures in the Trump administration such as Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo, and senators such as Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley, have gotten a lot of the White House buzz so far.
But some Republicans close to Pence say they like his path to the nomination.
“I think the vice president can do well, ex officio,” said Pence’s friend. And second, through their loyalty to a program that many Republicans are passionate about but which bring about a completely different personality and style of governance.
A current senior administration official praised Pence’s ability to direct Trumpism with his distinctive style.
“It’s one of Mike’s greatest strengths,” the official said.
Some Republicans do not believe Trump is likely to run for a third time in four years, even though the president has floated the idea in secret.
“I don’t think (Pence) is under siege from 2024,” another senior Republican official said.
The official speculated that Trump would likely vanish and that Pence would benefit from patiently waiting his time. For now, that means staying – casually at least – informed of and fundraising Trump’s empty claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
“He still has a little device that gives him the money to stay active,” Thompson said.
While the specter of a Trump presidential run will freeze the Republican presidential space of 2024, Pence advisers say the vice president could benefit. Unlike some of the other potential candidates, Pence does not need to introduce people to his name and will not need much time to set up a political process.
“There is a scenario in which the field freeze puts him in a different position from other potential candidates,” said a senior Trump administration official.
Stay in the course now
Meanwhile, Pence is focused on official business for his remaining 46 days in office.
Although most of his agenda was done behind closed doors, Pence on Wednesday went to the Capitol to swear in Arizona Senator Mark Kelly, a Democrat, who won the November 3 election – undermining Trump’s fraud allegations in that state.
On Thursday, Pence traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, for a roundtable discussion on vaccine development and distribution. Earlier this week, he led a meeting of a coronavirus task force and spoke with the nation’s rulers about the worsening pandemic.
On Friday, Pence made his second trip to support Georgia’s Republican Senate candidates, David Purdue and Kelly Loeffler, after a bus tour and multiple gatherings with both last month.
Pence spoke on Friday before what was supposed to be a rally of the unit in Savannah, although both Loeffler and Governor Brian Kemp did not attend due to the death of one of Loeffler’s employees in an accident earlier in the day.
In his Savannah remarks, Pence referred to the president’s allegations but emphasized the need for Republican voters to go to the polls.
“I know we all have our doubts about the last election,” Pence said. “In fact, I hear some people say they don’t vote. My fellow Americans, if you don’t vote, they win.” We can fight for our president and we can fight for more Republicans in the Senate at the same time.
It’s a preview of how Pence likely spent in his first two years after leaving office and in the run-up to the presidential campaign: rallying Republican candidates across the country and maintaining his alliance with Trump.
“The midterm elections, the out-of-year elections, the dog catcher election,” said Pence’s friend. “She’s back in the rubber chicken ring.”
CNN’s Jimmy Jungle contributed to writing this story.