Mike Pence “made it clear” to the Republican National Committee that he was willing to take Trump’s place as the GOP candidate for president in the aftermath of the Access Hollywood tape in October 2016.
The story comes from a profile of Mike Pence by McKay Coppins, a staff writer at The Atlantic, in which Coppins tracks Pence’s political rise and religious transformation and grapples with Pence’s and the religious right’s embrace of Donald Trump. He depicted a Trump campaign at a time when it was worried not only because of the political chaos and the countless calls for Trump to step down, but also because “Mike Pence suddenly seemed at risk of going rogue.”
Trump’s phone calls to his running mate reportedly went unreturned, and anonymous quotes began appearing in news stories describing Pence as “beside himself” over the revelation. … It’s been reported that Pence sent Trump a letter saying he needed time to decide whether he could stay with the campaign. But in fact, according to several Republicans familiar with the situation, he wasn’t just thinking about dropping out—he was contemplating a coup.
According to the article, as many in the GOP were scheming to force or buy Trump out, they were talking about a Mike Pence-Condoleezza Rice ticket. Coppins describes a meeting in which Trump asked Reince Priebus his opinion about the damage the tape had done to his candidacy. Priebus reportedly told Trump he should drop out.
According to someone who was present, Priebus added that Pence and Rice were “ready to step in.” (An aide to the vice president denied that Pence sent Trump a letter and that he ever talked with the RNC about becoming the nominee. Priebus did not respond to requests for comment.)
Pence’s career as it is presented in the piece compels readers to try to pick apart the relationship between the vice president’s religiosity and ambition—Coppins at the end calls the latter “radioactive”—but The Atlantic article contends that Pence’s brief contemplation of rebellion was not purely political.
He was genuinely shocked by the Access Hollywood tape. In the short time they’d known each other, Trump had made an effort to convince Pence that—beneath all the made-for-TV bluster and bravado—he was a good-hearted man with faith in God. On the night of the vice-presidential debate, for example, Trump had left a voicemail letting Pence know that he’d just said a prayer for him. The couple was appalled by the video, however. Karen in particular was “disgusted,” says a former campaign aide. “She finds him reprehensible—just totally vile.”
Last summer, as Coppins noted, the New York Times reported Pence appeared to be preparing for a 2020 presidential bid, and while Pence has vehemently denied the story, Coppins imagines the real possibility of the GOP turning on Trump after another major scandal, and Pence’s subsequent rise. In this scenario, Coppins warned, the United States could end up with a truly evangelical president. “What critics should worry about is not that Pence believes in God,” he wrote, “but that he seems so certain God believes in him.”