Old and busted: Ambassador Mike Pence. New hotness: Inquisitor Mike Pence? Politico got its hands on an audio recording of the vice president’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, meeting with big-ticket GOP donors to plan for the midterms. Rather than follow Pence’s public signals for intra-party unity between Trump loyalists and everyone else, Ayers told donors that they needed to conduct a purge that will eject any Republicans with insufficient loyalty to the president:
But Ayers reserved his harshest criticism for congressional leaders and members who have not offered full-throated support for the president.
“Just imagine the possibilities of what can happen if our entire party unifies behind him? If — and this sounds crass — we can purge the handful of people who continue to work to defeat him,” Ayers said, according to an audio recording of the remarks obtained by POLITICO.
Did that sound crass? Not as crass as what followed:
One attendee later asked how the donors could “rally the congressional delegation that does support the president and vice president, and rally them and push them to change the current leadership in both the Senate and the House.”
“I’m not speaking on behalf of the president or vice president when I say this,” Ayers responded. “But if I were you, I would not only stop donating, I would form a coalition of all the other major donors, and just say two things. We’re definitely not giving to you, number one. And number two, if you don’t have this done by Dec. 31, we’re going out, we’re recruiting opponents, we’re maxing out to their campaigns, and we’re funding super PACs to defeat all of you.”
Normally, parties that win elections don’t eat their own this quickly, but … politics hasn’t been normal for some time. One might think, though, that Republicans would leave the internecine fighting and inquisitional purity campaigns to Democrats and progressives, who have already begun to set red lines on abortion and socialized medicine that’s guaranteed to scare off moderates in 2018. At least in the Senate, Republicans stand to gain significant ground if they focus on fighting Democrats rather than each other, and the nature of the states being contested all but ensures more Trump-friendly votes in the 116th Session.
All caveats aside, does he speak for Pence in this instance? That seems like an unusual claim to make. As chief of staff, one would assume that he has the best vantage point to his boss’ thinking, especially with Ayers’ short but influential track record with the VP. Donors want to hear from him to get a sense of Pence’s state of mind, and they’re likely to assume that a chief of staff wouldn’t say anything that his boss opposes.
For that matter, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are likely to make the same assumptions. Pence has been working with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to gain traction for Trump’s agenda, which both men and their leadership teams support. The leadership a purge would produce would be most likely from the Freedom Caucus, which has been the main obstacle for Trump’s agenda thus far in 2017, and which has been none too pleased with Trump’s overtures to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. With that in mind, doesn’t this incentivize Ryan and McConnell to throw in with the purists and allow everything to stall out on Capitol Hill?
Presumably, Pence will need to play ambassador again after this. One has to wonder how effective that will be.