Mike Pence thinks he could become president soon
Mike Pence (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Are you wondering why Vice President Mike Pence seems to be spending a lot of time cultivating the Trump base? Maybe it's because Donald Trump increasingly looks like he might not make it through a full term, and Pence needs to reassure Trump's loyal base -- now the core of the Republican electorate -- that he'll carry on the legacy of their Dear Leader. We're still a long way from a resignation, a 25th Amendment removal or impeachment proceedings but the craziness quotient is getting higher by the day.

This article was originally published at Salon

First let's recap what's happened just this week in Donald Trump news. We learned that Robert Mueller's office is ratcheting up the pressure to have the president submit to an interview, and that the president and his team are resisting. We also know that he is tweeting away like a madman, as usual, robotically exclaiming "no collusion" which he seems to think is some sort of protective spell against this investigation. Apparently no one has had the heart or the brass to inform him that his problem isn't "collusion," which has no clear legal definition term, but rather "conspiracy," which does. Specifically, he is suspected of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government under 18 U.S.C. § 371, which simply states that it is a crime to conspire to “obstruct the lawful functions of the United States government through fraud and deceit.” One lawful function would of course be our elections.

Despite all the media's obsession with obstruction of justice, the big story this week about the "49 questions" makes it clear that the collusion and/or conspiracy question is alive and well. Indeed, former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo told CNN on Wednesday after being interviewed that "it's clear [prosecutors] are still really focused on Russia collusion. They know more about the Trump campaign than anyone who ever worked there. The Senate and the House are net fishing. The special counsel is spearfishing. They know what they are aiming at and are deadly accurate."

It was also announced on Tuesday that genial White House lawyer Ty Cobb was going to retire at he end of the month and would be replaced by Emmet Flood, a veteran of Bill Clinton's impeachment team. This was widely assumed to be a sign that the president will begin a major legal fight against the special counsel's investigation. Flood's specialty appears to be claiming executive privilege, and whether that could be an effective legal strategy after the Trump administration has already turned over troves of documents and allowed everyone in the White House to be interviewed remains to be seen. But the fact that an attorney with "impeachment experience" is now on the team certainly suggests that the Russia scandal has entered a more serious phase.

It's not just the Russia probe that has Trump on the ropes. His other new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, went on Sean Hannity's Fox News show on Wednesday night and blew the lid off the Stormy Daniels lawsuit by admitting that Trump had paid back Michael Cohen the $130,000 in hush money that he paid Daniels before the election. That contradicts the president's previous statements that he knew nothing about it. Reaction was swift:

Giuliani also said that Trump fired former FBI director James Comey because Comey had refused to say publicly that the president wasn't under investigation. That's not going to be helpful to his client's cause either, since it's a brand new excuse that nobody's heard before. In other words, Giuliani is acting just as unhinged as his client, and has put him in even worse legal jeopardy at the worst possible moment.

Speaking of unhinged, what can we possibly say about the story of Trump's doctor of more than 30 years, who claimed this week that Trump dispatched thugs to ransack and seize his medical records last year and dictated the doctor's famous letter stating that Trump was in "astonishingly excellent" health. It was also reported that they seized the medical records filed under pseudonyms Trump used, raising the question of why in the world anyone would need to use a fake name with his own doctor. Coming as this does on the heels of the scandal around White House physician Ronny Jackson, another doctor who had issued an "astonishingly excellent" bill of health for the president, you really have to wonder what the real state of Trump's health might be:

All of this brings us back to Mike Pence, who seems to be all over the place right now, spending a lot of energy kissing up to the Trump base. It's not that he's ignored them in the past. Indeed, he's made a fetish out of taking "principled" stands designed to vouch for the president's upright character with Republicans who might be uncomfortable with Trump's pathological lying and libertine morality.

Recall this ostentatious display of patriotic fervor:

Pence also made great shows of refusing to stand for the unified Korean team at the Olympics and walking out of the Summit of the Americas when the Cuban representative was introduced. These are the actions one expects from a doctrinaire right-wing moralist hawk which has undoubtedly kept some of the faithful GOP on the administration's side. If Trump is good enough for Pence he must be OK, right?

But this week the veep has gone even further. As the presidency looks ever shakier and Trump's legal situation appears to reach critical mass, Pence has gone to great lengths to assure the racist element of the base that he's one of them. In Arizona he appeared at an "America First" event led by a former Trump staffer who resigned in disgrace after it was revealed that he was a stone cold racist who had said, "I believe wholeheartedly, wholeheartedly, that the black race as a whole, not totally, is lazier than the white race, period."

At that same event Pence called out to former Phoenix sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was recently the recipient of a presidential pardon, calling Arpaio a "tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law." (The longtime sheriff was convicted of criminal contempt for willfully violating a federal court order.)

The crowd roared its approval, needless to say. They were almost as excited as if it were the Great Man himself.

It's impossible to know exactly what Pence is up to, but it's conceivable that he is reassuring the base that he's one of them, in case this impeachment lawyer turns out to be a necessity. All this talk about Trump concealing his health records and forcing doctors to cover for him might also make old D.C. hands start whispering about the 25th Amendment. If either of those two things become more realistic, Pence's potential legitimacy as president -- and his viability in 2020 -- could depend on keeping the Trumpers happy.