Vice President Mike Pence has been a go-to fundraising draw for the president’s campaign, and since October, no more than a day passed without his name emblazoning a fundraising email for the Trump re-elect.
But that changed late last month. Since Nov. 25, not a single fundraising email from the Trump campaign or its Republican National Committee fundraising account has featured Pence’s name in the “from” field. And this week, that Republican National Committee joint fundraising committee, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, made another subtle change: a handful of its emails swapped out the official Trump-Pence campaign logo for one featuring just the president’s name.
At first blush, those may seem like minor tweaks to gimmicky portions of Team Trump’s fundraising strategy. A source familiar with the process said the fundraising emails do not go to Vice President Pence’s team for clearance and an RNC official said the digital team was merely testing a new logo around the end-of-the-month deadline. Indeed, some of the joint fundraising committee’s emails this week have included the original campaign logo with Pence’s name below Trump’s.
But several high-level sources say that the graphics change, along with Pence’s disappearance from the headers of President Donald Trump’s increasingly frantic and conspiratorial pleas, are not actually coincidental. According to four people with knowledge of the matter, they reflect an effort by the vice president and his team to distance Pence from some of the president’s more outlandish claims about a conspiracy to undermine the election and illegally deny him a second term in office.
“It is an open secret [in Trumpworld] that Vice President Pence absolutely does not feel the same way about the legal effort as President Trump does,” said a senior administration official. “The vice president doesn’t want to go down with this ship… and believes much of the legal work has been unhelpful.”
The Trump campaign declined to comment on this story. Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for Pence, said Wednesday night, “As he has for the last four years, the vice president is proud to stand with the president—in this case to ensure every legal vote is counted and every illegal vote is rejected. The Daily Beast’s anonymous sources have no real insight into what the vice president thinks on these matters.”
The political marriage between Trump and Pence was always based on simple tradeoff: Pence gave Trump credibility among establishment and religious types and, in exchange, shared the spoils of Trump’s far larger and more unorthodox coalition of voters. But in the aftermath of the 2020 elections, that deal has come under intense strain.
As Trump has tended to his own future, Pence has preferred to place his energies on the critical Senate runoff elections in Georgia. Pence, sources say, privately views the Rudy Giuliani-led legal operation to overturn the 2020 election through the mass disenfranchisement of votes as counterproductive and doomed. And, as a former governor himself, he has been particularly uncomfortable with Trump’s attacks on Republican governors in some of the key battleground states that he lost. The president has accused several GOP leaders of incompetence or negligence in their inability or unwillingness to stop the certification of their state’s election results.
“Pence deeply understands the position that [Ohio Gov. Mike] DeWine, [Arizona Gov. Dave] Ducey and [Georgia Gov. Brian] Kemp are in. He has tried to be an effective mediator and communicator between those parties and the president back and forth,” said one Pence ally. “Any time he’s played that role, it’s gone well. The president is satisfied with the facts they’ve provided. And then somehow, without hours or days, the president is publicly attacking them by being fed inaccurate information from other White House sources, which frustrates the VP. It’s not a good look for the president. And it’s only created division in the party at a time when unity is very important.”
The result has been a subtle but clear effort at creating political space.
Since Election Day, Pence has walked a rhetorical tightrope as he tries to publicly back Trump’s position in general terms while avoiding the more outlandish allegations that the president frequently floats on Twitter and in his few post-election public remarks. Pence has repeatedly demanded that “every legal vote” be counted and that alleged voter fraud be rooted out.
But he has studiously avoided backing Trump’s more conspiratorial allegations about election malfeasance, and declined to answer questions about his views on specific Trump statements. For example, a pool report from a Nov. 20 rally in Georgia, where Pence campaigned on behalf of Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, noted that the vice president “did not echo the president’s rhetoric on the election being ‘rigged.’”
The disconnect is also evident on Pence’s Twitter feed. While the president has fervently tweeted about the supposed conspiracy against him, Pence’s tweets on the matter have been far fewer and more muted. He’s devoted far more social-media space to the White House’s efforts to get a coronavirus vaccine out the door and to last month’s NASA rocket launch, which sent U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station.
Since Nov. 15, Pence has tweeted just three times about supposed election irregularities. Two of those tweets were links to news stories, shared without comment, about recount and vote audit efforts in Georgia, and one simply retweeted a reporter’s quotation of Pence’s comments at that Nov. 20 rally, where Pence declared that Trump would “keep fighting until every legal vote is counted” and “every illegal vote is thrown out.”
Pence made other similarly anodyne comments in his remarks that tiptoed around the president’s allegations of widespread voter fraud. But he also repeatedly called on Georgia Republicans to “defend the majority” in the U.S. Senate—a tacit acknowledgement that, if Democrats win both Georgia Senate seats, a Vice President Kamala Harris would break the upper chamber’s 50-50 split and give her party a majority.
That unspoken premise is a reality that Republican operatives and the party’s top donors have acknowledged even as the president remains obstinate.
“I have not seen any evidence yet that would convince me that [the Trump legal team] will be successful in getting this to the Supreme Court or even anything to an appeals court,” Ed Rollins, a veteran GOP strategist who chairs the pro-Trump group Great America PAC, said on Wednesday. “I’m disappointed in the effort, as someone who has been around the game for a long time. I’ve seen a lot of ranting and raving from them, but not any really good legal challenges. Neither Rudy nor Sidney [Powell] nor anybody else on the team is considered a first-rate election lawyer and I don’t see any on this team.”
On Wednesday, Pence went to Capitol Hill to participate in the swearing-in of Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ)—an act that implicitly conceded the validity of the elections in Arizona. Hours later, Trump put out a 46-minute-long speech in which he called for the results in six battleground states, including Arizona, to be overturned and for him to remain president. Pence was not by his side.