Pence isn’t truly MAGA, of course. He’s “MAGA by marriage,” politically speaking.

I sense that marriage is now irretrievably broken, the differences between the parties irreconcilable.

Ten days ago I wrote this about the news that Bush 43 and Pence’s former chief of staff were now backing Brian Kemp against Trump and David Perdue in Georgia:

The fact that Bush and Short are in Kemp’s corner makes me suspect we’ll see Pence himself hit the trail for Kemp this fall, and not just because he’s an old-school party guy inclined to help out a fellow Republican in a big race. Trump’s hostility to Kemp is an opportunity for Pence to draw a contrast between himself and Trump ahead of a possible 2024 primary challenge. Pence will use it to show Republicans that, unlike Trump, he’s willing to put the party’s interests first, just like he was willing to put the country’s interests first on January 6.

This morning brings confirmation from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Former Vice President Mike Pence will headline a get-out-the-vote rally with Gov. Brian Kemp on the eve of Georgia’s May 24 primary, marking a new split with Donald Trump as each maneuver for a possible 2024 White House run.

Pence called Kemp “one of the most successful conservative governors in America” in a statement announcing the May 23 rally to help the incumbent stave off a Trump-backed challenge from former U.S. Sen. David Perdue…

The former vice president’s visit is part of Kemp’s take-no-prisoners approach to the primary. The governor’s advisers don’t want to simply defeat Perdue and avoid an unpredictable June runoff; they want to rout him.

Kemp must believe this race is absolutely in the bag for him to want to (indirectly) taunt Trump this way. Not just Bush but other Trump critics and enemies like Doug Ducey, Chris Christie, and Pete Ricketts are inbound this week to campaign for Kemp in Georgia. Kemp doesn’t need them there to win; if anything, the hostility between those guys and Trump could give Trump supporters a bit of extra motivation to turn out for Perdue on primary day.

Kemp would only invite them if he thinks he’s got this election by the throat and can afford to extend a symbolic middle finger to Trump by inviting his critics to campaign him. And he probably does have it by the throat. There are signs that Trump is bracing for defeat here:

The ultimate indignity for the “great MAGA king” is having his own VP show up to back-slap Kemp while he’s on the brink of dealing Trump the most humiliating primary defeat he’s ever faced. It feels like a “gloves off” moment between Pence and Trump, although a moment to which we’ve been building for many months. In February Pence declared that it was “un-American” for certain people who shall remain nameless to believe that he should have tried to overturn the election on January 6. A few weeks later he declared that “There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin,” never mind that his former boss has traditionally been America’s foremost Putin apologist. A week later he visited the Ukrainian border to show that he shares none of the populist anti-anti-Russia sentiment here in the U.S.

Rumors have circulated for more than six months that Pence is thinking of primarying Trump in 2024. The fact that he’s willing to join in Kemp’s end-zone dance at Trump’s expense is the surest sign yet.

Which is … good news for Trump, actually.

Good news on balance, I mean. I continue to think Ron DeSantis is the only Republican in America with a chance of beating Trump in a primary, but for that to happen DeSantis needs a one-on-one match-up. The more crowded the “Not Trump” lane is, the more voters in that lane will splinter among the various candidates. Trump could conceivably lose 51/49 to DeSantis but with Pence in the race we’re more likely to see a Trump 49, DeSantis 36, Pence 15 outcome.

Pence running would be bad news for Trump in one important way, though. Inevitably Pence would be forced to argue that the man he served as VP is unfit for office, something we’ve never seen in a primary in my lifetime. “No one witnessed the Trump presidency as comprehensively as I did,” Pence could say. “Believe me when I tell you that things were even more chaotic, mismanaged, and dangerous behind the scenes than they appeared.” Would that critique help him win the nomination? Nah. But as the long list of Trump alumni who’ve turned anti-Trump continues to grow, swing voters in the general election may … pause and reflect.

“Putting slow timing aside, we now have both of Trump’s Defense Secretaries saying this, both of his Attorneys General, a Secretary of State, a Chief of Staff/DHS Sec and another DHS Sec,” Rory Cooper tweeted about the Esper clip. We’ll be able to add Pence to Cooper’s list if he runs in 2024. We might even get to add Mike Pompeo eventually, as he allegedly wants to run too. In isolation, criticism of Trump from either could be dismissed on grounds that it’s self-serving, just sour grapes from ambitious pols who want to be president themselves and are willing to say anything about Trump towards that end. But when it’s not just Pence and Pompeo but all manner of cabinet secretaries — Esper, Mattis, Tillerson, Barr, John Kelly, Chad Wolf, etc etc etc — saying it, that may be enough for some Trump-curious swing voters to pass on a second Trump term. When virtually everyone whom a former president employed in a position of real power turns around with a flashing neon sign that reads “UNFIT FOR OFFICE,” some undecided voters will take them seriously.

Maybe all of those Trump deputies-turned-enemies will unite in support of Pence in 2024, allowing him to run on a “same great MAGA policies without the drama” campaign. It won’t work but it could weaken Trump for the general election. Which maybe is all Pence is hoping and expecting to do.

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