When the Access Hollywood tape was released a month before the presidential election, on which then-candidate Donald Trump was heard bragging about grabbing women’s genitals, Mike Pence prepared a “coup” to step in as the head of the Republican ticket, according to a new profile in the Atlantic.
After the tape was released by the Washington Post on Oct. 7, all hell broke loose in the GOP: Numerous donors and Republican leaders either called for Trump to step aside or prevailed upon officials to force him off the ticket. Pence, who was “beside himself,” stopped answering Trump’s calls, and he reportedly sent Trump a letter saying he needed time to decide whether he would remain with the campaign, the magazine reports, adding that a former campaign aide said that Pence’s wife, Karen, was “disgusted” by the tape: “She finds him reprehensible—just totally vile.”
But Pence planned not just to stay but to supplant Trump, the magazine reports. “Within hours of the Post’s bombshell, Pence made it clear to the Republican National Committee that he was ready to take Trump’s place as the party’s nominee,” writes the Atlantic’s McKay Coppins. “Such a move just four weeks before Election Day would have been unprecedented—but the situation seemed dire enough to call for radical action.”
Insiders began buzzing about drafting Condoleezza Rice for the vice-presidential slot. A meeting was held at Trump Tower, in which Reince Priebus told Trump that Pence and Rice were ready to step in. At the same time, “a small group of billionaires was trying to put together money for a ‘buyout’—even going so far as to ask a Trump associate how much money the candidate would require to walk away from the race,” the Atlantic reports. “According to someone with knowledge of the talks, they were given an answer of $800 million.”
Ultimately, Trump stabilized his position by sinking lower: He showed up to the second debate against Hillary Clinton with a group of women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct. That calmed the waters, Pence and Trump stayed in place, and the rest is history.
Since the election, Pence has batted away suggestions that he is already preparing for a presidential run of his own. Last summer, the New York Times reported that Pence had started a PAC for that purpose. Pence called the idea “disgraceful and offensive.”