NASHVILLE, Ind. – When Vice President Mike Pence strides into the J.W. Marriott Friday night for the Republican Fall Dinner, and then the Saturday GOP “Right Track Barnstorm Tour” kickoff, he finds himself at the apex of Trump World.

The president’s approval popped up to 41% in CNN tracking. Unemployment is the lowest in 50 years. Trump achieved his remake of NAFTA, and that has bought him some time with Hoosier farmers and manufacturers still nervously awaiting some resolution to the shotgun $200 billion tariffs aimed at China. Most Hoosier farmers are sticking with the president even as their bottom lines take a hit.

On that front, Pence thrust himself fully into the China fray this past week by warning the emerging Pacific powerhouse that it mustn’t meddle or assault our elections, and it had better keep away from our ships, that latter notice coming after a close call with the USS Decatur and a Chinese interceptor ship. “The United States Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows and our national interests demand,” Pence said at the Hudson Institute. “We will not be intimidated; we will not stand down.”

It conjured memories of Pence as a congressman years ago, forecasting a probable war between the U.S. and China by mid-century. The Hudson Institute speech was called “very ridiculous” by Beijing, but the New York Times and Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Russell Mead saw it as a precursor to something else: “Behind closed doors, however, Mr. Pence’s remarks probably left few doubts among China’s leaders that Washington was embarking on a Cold War that would force the country to dig in for a prolonged multifront battle with the United States, analysts said.”

“This will look like the declaration of a new Cold War, and what China may do is more important than what it will say about Pence’s speech,” Zhang Baohui, professor of international relations at Lingnan University in Hong Kong, told the NYT.

As for elections, Pence believes that Beijing seeks regime change, here in the U.S. of A. “China wants a different American president,” Pence said. “By one estimate, more than 80% of U.S. counties targeted by China voted for President Trump in 2016; now China wants to turn these voters against our administration.”

As for Pence’s own political future, there are now two people inextricably linked to his legacy. The first is obvious: President Trump. Pence has been undyingly loyal to a president that insists upon that attribute among those in his winnowing inner circle.

The second fully emerged on Tuesday, abruptly and unexpectedly: United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley. She caught the Washington and foreign policy establishments unawares by tendering her resignation. Here’s my prediction: In a post-Trump era, the likely rivalry will be between Pence and Haley. The two put on a good, friendly face Tuesday when she stopped by Pence’s White House office for a photo op. They even attempted to share a top aide until Trump nixed it early last summer. But these two characters bring all the elements of a future political war.

In breaking down this scenario, the first question is, when does the Trump era end? He is in a full-mount reelection mode, with a Pence nephew embedded in the campaign. Trump is fabulously popular with the GOP base, so a nomination showdown within the party would be the proverbial fool’s errand.

Having said that, Trump was the oldest elected president. His diet and health are potential problems. His approval never seems to crest above 45%. And there’s that Robert Mueller probe that keeps the president up late at night and tweeting. Could Mueller’s report, should it be made fully public, sow the seeds of impeachment?

Unlikely. Impeachments are national tragedies. There’s never been a successful impeachment and, given the political lay of the land, it is nigh impossible that two-thirds of the U.S. Senate would vote that way. While the Mueller probe is a legal exercise, the most potentially lethal impacts to Trump will be political. Should Mueller’s findings be damning, the Trump base is likely to hold, but you can imagine the wider center tumbling away. The left is already in full “Resistance” mode.

The legal aspects of Mueller, particularly indictments of sons or in-laws, could have unpredictable consequences. Some speculate Trump might cut a deal and leave the scene in order to spare blood and kin. But the PBS “Frontline” episode “Trump’s Showdown” is steeped in the legacy of the late Roy Cohn, a McCarthyite and ultimate New York insider who brawls, turns lies into truths, defeats into victories, all while shooting up the messengers. Roy Cohn’s credo lives vibrantly within President Trump.

My bet is that Trump runs for reelection and he has a real shot at winning. Filmmaker Michael Moore, one of the few who predicted Trump’s victory in 2016, explained on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” recently, “I wake up every day to the fact that this could be a two-term Trump presidency. People two years ago didn’t take him seriously. He’s just a joke, he’s crazy. He’s cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. He out-smarted everybody. He’s still doing it. He’s the master distractor and the king of the misdirect. The left and liberals didn’t understand that.”

But Trump’s health, legal liabilities and potential loss of everything but his ardent political base is the cerebral arena for those who would follow him in office. Pence and Haley will lead that list.

Haley leaves the Trump administration widely and highly regarded by the foreign policy establishment and even the Eastern press. The New York Times editorial board, under the headline “Nikki Haley will be missed,” observed, “Ms. Haley, who is expected to pursue the presidency one day, may eventually find herself having to defend facilitating some of President Trump’s worst policies and instincts. But she will also be able to point to more constructive roles she played. Ms. Haley has navigated the political shoals of the Trump administration better than many of her colleagues, escaping the demeaning tweets the president meted out when his appointees broke ranks, as she sometimes did.”

Haley found some distance to the more controversial aspects of Trumpism. She insisted that Justice Kavanaugh’s accusers should be heard. When pressed by a reporter on her advocacy of sanctions on Russia that seemed to go against the president’s stance, Haley snapped, “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”

By exiting when she did on her own terms, without the demeaning twitter fire and degradation, Haley finds her reputation fully intact. At age 46, with two terms as South Carolina governor and two years at the United Nations, she now has a compelling domestic and foreign legacy.

Vice President Pence is fully invested in all things Trump. He has morphed his positions on free trade and spiraling deficits and debt, as well as support for the Muslim ban. It will be hard for Pence to find separation from Trump policy and liabilities. Of course, that could cut both ways: If the Trump tariffs gnaw at the farm belt bottom-line and force Hoosier manufacturers out of business, Pence assumes that liability. If the president is right, and brings President Xi and Beijing to their knees on trade, and the tax cuts pay for themselves and erode the deficits, Pence can assume that victorious mantle.

Having said all that, if the Trump reelect is full steam, and polling shows the need for a female on the ticket, well, loyalty with Donald J. Trump has proven to be a one-way street. It’s not probable, but some in the Pence sphere might want to do a little historical research on Hannibal Hamlin and Henry Wallace. Ditto for Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Dan Quayle and Al Gore, veeps who aspired to, but never reached, the promised Oval. As painful as a dump from the second Trump ticket might be, that actually might be a better avenue for our former Indiana governor to reach 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on his own terms.

Whether it’s 2020 (unlikely) or 2024, the next Bush v. Reagan, the next Obama v. Clinton, could easily be Haley v. Pence.