With Trump Stealing the Show Mike Pence Has Quietly Been Making Back Door Moves
Vice President Mike Pence has been courting scores of the country’s most influential donors, corporate executives and conservative political leaders over the past several months in a series of private gatherings and one-on-one conversations.
The centerpiece of the effort is a string of dinners held every few weeks at the vice president’s official residence on the grounds of the Naval Observatory in Washington. Mr. Pence and his wife, Karen, have presided over at least four such soirées, and more are in the works. Each has drawn roughly 30 to 40 guests, including a mix of wealthy donors such as the Chicago hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin and the brokerage firm founder Charles Schwab, as well as Republican fund-raisers and executives from companies like Dow Chemical and the military contractor United Technologies.
The guests and their families collectively donated or helped raise millions of dollars to support the Trump-Pence ticket in 2016, and some are viewed in Republican finance circles as likely supporters for two new groups created to promote President Trump, Mr. Pence, their legislative agenda and congressional allies. The dinner guest lists were curated in part by two of Mr. Pence’s closest advisers, who have also played important roles in starting the new political groups, America First Policies and America First Action. Mr. Pence has appeared at recent events outside his official residence with prospective donors to the groups.
The off-site events and dinners at Mr. Pence’s residence underscore the vice president’s outreach to donors for an administration led by a president who dislikes courting contributors, who often expect personal attention in exchange for their support. Mr. Pence’s activities have fueled speculation among Republican insiders that he is laying the foundation for his own political future, independent from Mr. Trump.
If nothing else, the assiduous donor maintenance by Mr. Pence and his team reflects his acceptance of a Washington reality that Mr. Trump sharply criticized during the campaign, when he assailed some of his party’s most generous donors as puppet masters who manipulated the political process to further their own interests at the expense of working people. Mr. Trump frequently said that because of his own real estate fortune, he didn’t need or want support from wealthy donors or the political groups known as “super PACs,” to which donors can give seven-figure donations and which Mr. Trump blasted as “very corrupt.”
Mr. Pence’s aides point out that he also has dinners at the residence for groups other than donors, including members of Congress, world leaders, military families, civic leaders and friends. They cast the donor dinners as an effort to build support for the administration’s agenda, not for Mr. Pence personally.
“Mike Pence is the ultimate team player and works every day to help the president succeed,” said Robert T. Grand, an Indianapolis lawyer who helped raise money for Mr. Pence’s campaigns in Indiana for Congress and for governor. Mr. Grand attended a dinner at the vice president’s residence in June. “There were a lot of folks who, if you were vice president, you would want to meet,’’ Mr. Grand said. “Corporate executives, other government leaders, people from past administrations, not just donors.”
He added that “any administration, past and present, has an interest in getting to know folks. If you’re an incumbent president and vice president, then that’s part of what you do.”