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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Speculation over 2020 presidential candidates irks White House

Vice president Mike Pence attacked the New York Times on Sunday for its report that a few Republicans, among them Mr Pence, have started a “shadow campaign” and are exploring the idea of running in 2020

US vice president Mike Pence addresses a summit in Podgorica, Montenegro on August 2, 2017. He has reacted angrily to reports that he was planning to stand for president in the 2020 election. Visar Kryeziu / AP Photo
US vice president Mike Pence addresses a summit in Podgorica, Montenegro on August 2, 2017. He has reacted angrily to reports that he was planning to stand for president in the 2020 election. Visar Kryeziu / AP Photo

An approval rating in the low 30s, an investigation into his campaign ties to Russia and an unhealthy diet for a 71-year-old. Donald Trump’s woes have triggered an early conversation on the 2020 presidential election, much to the displeasure of the White House.

Vice president Mike Pence attacked The New York Times on Sunday for its report that a few Republicans, among them Mr Pence, have started a “shadow campaign” and are exploring the idea of running in 2020.

The claims hit a nerve in the White House, since it enforces speculation that Mr Trump may not run for a second term, or could be challenged from within his own party.

Mr Pence went out of his way to show loyalty to the president, calling the report “disgraceful and offensive” for even suggesting that the vice president was flirting with the idea of running for the highest office.

“The allegations in this article are categorically false and represent just the latest attempt by the media to divide this administration,” he said.

Using some of Mr Trump’s favourite phrases in attacking the media, Mr Pence said: “Whatever fake news may come our way, my entire team will continue to focus all our efforts to advance the president’s agenda and see him re-elected in 2020. Any suggestion otherwise is both laughable and absurd.”

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He even used Mr Trump’s campaign slogan to show unity among the Republican ticket, saying “the American people know that I could not be more honoured to be working side by side with a president who is making America great again.”

The New York Times, however, stuck with its story. A spokeswoman for the newspaper said: “We are confident in the accuracy of our reporting and will let the story speak for itself.”

The story claimed that last June, an aide to Mr Pence, Marty Obst, said his team “wanted to be prepared to run in case there was an opening in 2020”.

The story said that Nick Ayers, the vice president’s new chief of staff, had signalled to Republican donors that Mr Pence wants to be ready.” The paper also mentioned senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Ohio governor John Kasich among Republicans looking into 2020 prospects.

US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley was also mentioned for putting her long time pollster back on the payroll.

The paper said it spoke to 75 Republicans for the story and that some secretly wish the more disciplined Mr Pence would be president.

But White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway insisted on ABC that Mr Trump was planning to run for a second term.

“The president says privately and publicly … that he'll be president for seven and a half more years, so he plans on being a two-term president,” Ms Conway said.

In a poll conducted last month, Public Policy Polling (PPP) showed Mr Trump losing to the majority of hypothetical Democratic candidates in a 2020 match-up.

Joe Biden would trounce Mr Trump with 54 per cent of the vote to Mr Trump’s 39, and he would lose by a similar margin to Bernie Sanders, according to the poll. Mr Trump would also lose against senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, the poll found.