The Right Resistance: Is Mike Pence simply too nice a guy to compete in the GOP next year?
Can a nice guy win the presidency in 2024?
It’s always curious to see how, every party nominating cycle, political observers make a big deal about how friendly or well-liked each candidate happens to be, as though approachability and affability is the key factor in the voting public’s deliberations on who could be the best one to guide the nation. While it is true that an old grouch wouldn’t tend to stimulate many conversations in the one-to-one confines of Iowa and New Hampshire, couldn’t it be said that “normal” people also like straight-man strong leaders?
Tank commander George S. Patton is credited with pushing the offensive maneuvers that re-conquered Europe for the allies in World War II, but congenial nice guy Dwight Eisenhower won the war – and then was elected president. A decade later, “Tricky Dick”, Richard Nixon, took over in 1968 and ’72, and hardly anyone regarded him as a warm and fuzzy-type personality.
The question now is whether temperament and disposition will play a noticeable role in who conservatives and Republicans choose to represent the party in 2024. GOPers already have their combative bomb-thrower in Donald Trump, but is there any room for a milder personality presence? In a report titled “Pence Allies Launch ’24 Super PAC With Former VP’s Blessing”, the always reliable for a scoop Philip Wegmann wrote at Real Clear Politics:
“The new PAC, called ‘Committed to America,’ has hired staff from the establishment machine that bucked Trump in Georgia, and they are preparing to put Trump on the defensive while reintroducing Pence to primary voters, ‘not as vice president,’ but this time ‘as his own man.’...
“[Pence] has called for a national abortion ban while others, such as Trump and former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, have retreated to more pragmatic ground. He says that the conflict in Ukraine ‘is not our war’ but supports sending aid to Kyiv because ‘freedom is our fight.’ He has warned his fellow conservatives against the temptation of going ‘beyond the scope’ of limited-government principles to the point of criticizing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for using state power to settle political debates.
“Those positions are why Pence’s allies argue that ‘there is no other classical conservative in this field.’ But does the current GOP electorate, recently hopped-up on populism, have an appetite for the measured conservatism of a former talk-radio host who once described himself as ‘Rush Limbaugh on decaf,’ or do they want an overly caffeinated brawler as their champion? Pence smiled when RealClearPolitics put that question to him in Iowa last month. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘We may have to test that theory.’”
Hmmm… brawler versus measured conservative in 2024? I’m not a political consultant, and I don’t even play one on TV, but I’d say, without reservation, that the country, and especially the conservative Republican base, craves the former.
Recall how “Measured conservatism” was tried with the two Bush presidents and it resulted in disaster. One could even argue that the concept was tested again in 2016 with the candidacy of Bush son/brother Jeb (!) – and Donald Trump stomped on that creature like a vengeful bite recipient reacting just in time to catch his or her mosquito perpetrator completing its mission. Trump quickly branded poor Jeb (!) as “low energy” and the rest was history, primarily because the youngest Bush was… lethargic and monotone, at least compared with the bombastic Trump and the fiery Ted Cruz.
For far too long Republicans were complacent and compliant in allowing the party establishment to select its favorite and then go along with the choice as though the winner were already decided. How else would we have gotten amnesty-touting “Maverick” John McCain in 2008, who was basically a war veteran version of George W. Bush but with less hair and no twangy southern accent.
McCain was regarded as a crotchety, temperamental and stubborn guy who did things differently than principled conservatives like the “wacko birds” (his name for them) in Congress, but really he was just a slick salesman who sought out anyone who agreed with him (such as fellow “three amigos” senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham) on his go-along-to-get-along adventures so that he could label himself as a “bipartisan” conciliator who “gets things done”.
McCain was no brawler; he was a lover, not a fighter, except when it came to committing U.S. Military forces to stupid and inane endless wars. Why else would he have thrown away his greatest (pardon the pun) trump card against Barack Obama in the person of America-hating pastor Jeremiah Wright when it counted most?
Then came Mitt Romney’s “turn” as the establishment candidate in 2012 when conservatives failed to coalesce around one liberty-loving option, finally settling for Rick Santorum when it was already too late. The swamp branded Romney as a flip-flopping wuss who was more put off by the establishment media’s reporting of his dog on top of the family station wagon than he was with pressing the many, many weaknesses of the Obama/Biden administration and its pathetic economic record.
Would anyone be afraid of meeting a would-be attacker who looked like Mitt Romney in a dark alley? For all we know, the stooge would be on his way to take part in a Black Lives Matter rally to make himself seem “woke” and with the times. Romney and Paul Ryan as a political pair were more like a couple of choir boys on confirmation Sunday than leaders who would stand up to the ugly powers to preserve liberty.
So yes, temperament does matter, especially this year. The fact Pence has all-but acknowledged he’s prepared to wage an anti-Trump (basically) establishment candidacy doesn’t lend him an aura of credibility to today’s conservative/populist voters. Current Trump backers appreciate the former president in part because he articulates what’s in everyone’s heart and isn’t afraid to step on toes – or heads – to get there.
Even the next-in-ranking order, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, is well-liked because of his demonstrated willingness to step out of line and challenge preconceived “woke” notions in order to defend liberty. Some have claimed DeSantis may not be “likable” enough – that he doesn’t have the one-to-one retail campaigning knack – but I don’t recall anyone ever suggesting Ron’s too “nice” to take on the “Evil Party’s” heavyweight champion.
Granted, it’s difficult to envision senile Joe Biden as a seasoned fighter, but the phony “everyman” politician reputation the establishment news media prefers to assign to the 80-year-old also includes his feisty take-no-prisoners public facade. How many times has Biden threatened to beat somebody up during his campaign appearances? Similarly, hasn’t senile Joe claimed many times to have been the toughest guy on his block?
No one’s really sure if senile Joe, in his present physical and mental condition, will even make it to Election Day in 2024, but it’s clear that whoever the Democrats ultimately end up with will be a truth-bending pol whose chief principle is the ends justify the means. Look at the current line-up of Democrat leaders – they’re nasty to a fault.
Would “Chucky” Schumer, Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris, Maxine Waters or the outcasts from “The Squad” qualify for a “congeniality” contest? What about Nancy Pelosi? Wasn’t she a kindly old granny type who preferred a good ladies’ knitting gathering to the open combat of politics? Wouldn’t these folks find more satisfaction in a backgammon tournament than a political boxing ring?
Not a chance. And therein lies the problem with a Mike Pence candidacy. Those who know Pence swear he’s a lot tougher than he appears to be, and Mike would need to be to survive what is shaping up to be a somewhat malicious primary campaign, especially if Donald Trump is forced by the others to defend himself over COVID, January 6 and his various Democrat-concocted legal and criminal conundrums.
The passage of time and his eventual defeat of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race allowed Republicans to move on from the contentious party primaries earlier that year. Not only was there the “main event” of Trump vs. Cruz, there was also the ongoing battle between the Never Trumpers and the conservative base. The GOP establishment wasn’t going to relinquish control over the party willingly.
Here's also thinking the GOP ruling elites would be wary of fully embracing a Mike Pence candidacy this year. Pence had the audacity to enter Donald Trump’s tent in 2016 and never went along with the intra-party efforts to discredit the Republican president, even when it looked dire for him. Pence was a loyal lieutenant up until the end – that being January 6.
It could also be argued that Pence is too conservative for the establishment, especially on abortion. The Indiana native is one of the few national Republicans who’s come out in favor of a Constitutional abortion ban, a position in which the other candidates are waffling and wavering, searching for a middle ground that won’t turn off the single-issue crowd.
Then there’s Pence being all-in on supporting Ukraine in its no-end-in-sight battle against Russia, which is also bound to rankle conservatives who favor Trump’s “America First” vision. We won’t know if a “nice guy” can win the presidency until after the party primaries to determine whether there is even such a person on the ballot in 2024. One way or another, Mike Pence can’t suddenly shed his reputation as a calm, cool and level-headed politician. Does his personality disqualify him for next year’s contest? Wait and see.
Note: Another “nice guy”, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, is set to formally announce his own candidacy today. Much of the above analysis applies to Scott as well.
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