Slippery Laocoöns

During the presidency of George H.W. Bush, his Secret Service detail was reputedly under orders that if anything happened to him, they should immediately shoot his vice president Dan Quayle — to prevent him becoming president. In the present US administration, the orders are: if anything happens to Vice President Mike Pence, first shoot President Donald Trump.
The selection of a US vice president is always a tricky business. Every president hopes to find a person who can complement, not supplant him. Invariably, the choice falls on someone with more experience than ambition, on a man who can be trusted to remain a patient Prince of Wales than a restless heir apparent in waiting.
Some US presidents suffered the same disease that the Guelph Georges did: they hated their potential successors. President Dwight Eisenhower disliked his vice president Richard Nixon, refusing on one occasion to defend him during a corruption investigation. Then Nixon endured being spat upon by angry Venezuelans during a tour to their country in 1958. John F. Kennedy saw his VP Lyndon B. Johnson as a useful Mr Fix-it Southerner rather than his anointed torch-bearer. Nixon, when finally president, in the few hours that he did sleep never dreamed that his VP Gerald Ford would succeed him.
Dan Quayle reached the highest level of his incompetence when he became Bush senior’s VP. The White House must have quaked when Quayle pronounced: “I have made good judgements in the past. I have made good judgements in the future,” or misspelt before an elementary class the vegetable as ‘potatoe’.
The selection of a US vice president is always a tricky business. Trump’s White House must be watching with apprehension whenever his Vice President Mike Pence opens his mouth. Pence, like Quayle, is also from Indiana, but there the similarity ends. Anyone, though, who saw VP Mike Pence at his press conference with Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels this week realised that while Trump may well be a Svengali, Pence was certainly not his Trilby.
Pence articulated US foreign policy regarding shared financing of Nato with consummate diplomacy and precision. Within a few sentences, he restored the confidence of the Europeans in US’s leadership of the English-speaking world. And with a snake-oil salesman’s sleight of tongue, he explained away the inconsistencies between his president’s indefensible pronouncements and US’s more enduring global commitments and interests. At a stroke, he demonstrated why a good vice president can be more precious than a bad president. VP Mike Pence is not a mouthpiece VP: in time he may well reveal himself as the Svengali behind Svengali.

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