Pence Creates Personal Super PAC, Citing Election Hopes
Yesterday, as the seemingly constant din of Trump-related news died down for the first time in nearly a week, Mike Pence filed paperwork with the FEC to create "The Great American Committee," his own political action committee. According to a source close to the vice president, the PAC will provide funds to pay for Pence's travel around the country supporting various 2018 Republican congressional candidates and a run for re-election as Vice President in 2020. Given the tumultuous nature of the Trump administration's first couple of months, many on both sides of the aisle have considered the possibility of a Pence presidency. If Trump is impeached or choses to resign before the end of his four year term, a possibility currently at 4/5 (55%) odds on the international betting markets, Pence would succeed as President provided that he remains unscathed by the impeachment process. It takes no great stretch of the imagination to view the new super PAC as an insurance policy for that clear possibility.
As reported by NBC News, a source close to the vice president cautioned "Don't read into 2020 as anything other than his running for re-election as vice president in 2020 and supporting other candidates," attempting to allay concerns over the establishment of a political arm entirely separate from the President's own funding structure. By forming the committee, Pence creates a method of maintaining profiles of old political donors, email lists, digital platforms, and other campaign resources for future campaign use. The committee was established as a leadership PAC, organizations commonly affiliated with current and former members of Congress as well as prominent political figures, able to accept individual donations of up to $5,000. According to opensecrets.org, leadership PACs allow political figures to make money and friends, both of which are crucial to ambitious politicians looking to advance their careers. Leadership PACs fund expenses which are ineligible for campaign funding, and are often used to donate to other members of Congress or politicians seeking a committee leadership position, higher office, or leverage within a politician's own party.
If one views the move in the context of 2018 midterm campaigns, the new PAC makes some sense but seems unwarranted. If Pence was really sure that Trump would last the term and campaign again in 2020, he would have no issue simply relying on the existing fundraising structure in place for the President. Adding to the dubious nature of the move, Republicans hold significant majorities in the House and the Senate, backed up by multiple prolific fundraising entities which already exist. Simply put, Republicans own the PAC funding sphere, controlling 8 of the top 10 leadership PACs in the country, and the top 3 PACs overall. The largest Republican leadership PAC, the Majority Committee PAC, took in almost $2.2 million in the 2015-2016 FEC filing cycle. The closest Democrat controlled PAC took in just $1.3 million. The disparity in PAC funding is large, with Democrats taking in a total of $25.2 million in LPAC money in the 2016 cycle, compared the the GOP haul of $37.1 million.
The large disparity in PAC funding makes the vice president's new PAC somewhat unnecessary for the midterm elections, and the timing of its establishment might indicate that Pence is weighing the odds of impeachment or resignation, preparing a safety net should he assume the presidency. As the current administration flounders, both Democrats and Republicans have begun eyeing the understated former governor of Indiana. Democrats have already begun discrediting Pence, some suggesting that he is "just as complicit in this scandal as every other Republican in Washington" referring to the ongoing Russia probe, while others have repeatedly disparaged his record of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and religious freedom legislation. While Republican officials have refrained from commenting on the possibility of a Pence presidency, conservative media has explored the possibility extensively. Soon after an unexpectedly strong performance in the Vice Presidential debate, right wing news outlets praised a "measured and confident" Pence on a "dominating performance," many endorsing his fitness to be president should the need arise. After the Access Hollywood tapes were released in October, calls for a new ticket surfaced in a major way, with 7 GOP Senators favoring a reversal. And in the wake of a disappointing start to Trump's legislative window, many conservatives believe that they would have better success with a Pence presidency. Conservative blogger Erick Erickson wrote on Wednesday that Republicans should abandon Trump given the chance because they "have no need for him with Mike Pence in the Wings." In an Op-ed for the New York Times, Ross Douthat argued that Republicans should take Trump's accomplishments for what they are, but abandon him if he continues to impede their legislative agenda: "Hillary Clinton will not be retroactively elected if Trump is removed, nor will Neil Gorsuch be unseated. Any cost to Republicans will be counted in internal divisions and future primary challenges, not in immediate policy defeats."
Unfortunately for Trump, Douthat is exactly right. If Pence is replaced by Trump, they will experience minimal legislative pushback, as Pence's policy agenda is basically a blank red slate. They will also be absolved from the President's demanding legislative goals, like his trillion dollar infrastructure plan or 40 foot wall. While the taint of impeachment or resignation would hurt Republicans in the midterms, they would certainly retain a chance at keeping both houses due to their current makeup and the large number of democratic senators up for reelection in the upcoming cycle. The reality is that Republicans have a credible and reliable backup for President, one who seems more attractive every day. Despite his poor reputation with liberals, Pence has no major scandals or baggage, is well spoken, knowledgable, and a dedicated conservative. Republican leadership must be realizing by now that Trump may single-handedly squander their first chance at unified government in 10 years, and it is quite possible that Pence's new super PAC is a harbinger of the "bigly" changes to come.