On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that White House insiders were leaking the possibility of an alliance between Vice President Mike Pence and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley against President Trump. According to the report from Peter Baker, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Maggie Haberman:
Beyond the immediate disconnect, though, is a deeper strain between Trump and Haley, according to administration officials and other insiders. … along the way, Trump has grown suspicious of her ambition, convinced that she had been angling for Tillerson’s position and increasingly wondering whether she wants his own job. Republicans close to the White House whisper about the prospect of an alliance between Haley and Vice President Mike Pence, possibly to run as a ticket in 2020.
Of course, the Times reports its real goal in covering such chatter in the next sentence of the story: “the slightest hint of such a pairing would be likely to enrage Trump.”
The Times isn’t the only outlet reporting about Pence today. Axios reports that Pence’s “unifying role has positioned him perfectly for all scenarios – solid in his standing as VP, and ready to lead if Trump were to be impeached or decide one term is enough.”
The goal of all of this coverage? At least in part, it’s to tick off Trump. The media have made a cottage industry of reporting stories in the most inflammatory way, deploying commentators to speculate on just how “angry” Trump must be, and then reporting on that subsequent anger. It’s a media-generated news cycle with nothing at the heart but a desire to poke Trump with a stick and see if he’ll growl.
All too often, Trump does. Thanks to Trump’s Twitter feed, his id is on full display — we know pretty quickly whether he’s angry at a member of his administration (he’s gone after his attorney general, his deputy attorney general, his former secretary of state, and his former FBI director, among others). And if the media can start a firefight between Trump and the most popular members of his administration — Haley and Pence — then they can create more strain for a presidency already burdened by a higher-than-usual level of chaos.
How real is the Pence-Haley speculation? Not very. Pence and Haley both know Trump intends to run for re-election. And they’re serving inside his administration. If Trump were to go down in flames, the chances that Republicans hold the White House with a Pence-Haley ticket are relatively slim in any case. But the media certainly have an interest in fanning flames with anonymous rumors.