I like Mike Pence. Always have, actually.
The mild-mannered 63-year-old Indiana native is the type of guy anyone would feel comfortable leaving in charge of their home when they depart for a lengthy vacation. Pence is so soft spoken I doubt he’d ever raise his voice – even if there was a fire. How steady is he? Years ago, the then Trump-vice president stirred national media squawking (scorn?) when he announced that he would never accept a one-on-one dinner invitation with a woman who wasn’t his wife, which of course drew howls of “sex discrimination” protest from female journalists who claimed the nation’s second-in-line was denying them story opportunities because of their gender.
Yes, it really has gotten that ridiculous, particularly where unapologetic traditional conservatives like Mike Pence are involved.
Pence was a conservative in the House leadership before such a thing was considered cool – and necessary. According to Wikipedia, Pence “chaired the Republican Study Committee from 2005 to 2007 and served as the chairman of the House Republican Conference from 2009 to 2011, the third-highest position in the House Republican leadership. Pence described himself as a ‘principled conservative’ and supporter of the Tea Party movement, saying he was ‘a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.’”
I recall some prominent movement conservatives beseeched Pence to run for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination – wouldn’t he have been a much better choice than Mitt Romney? – but the Hoosier Stater opted to return home and run for Indiana’s executive mansion instead. Of course, he won. And Mike was a good governor, too, cutting taxes, expanding protections for the unborn and earning national acclaim -- though he did brush up against conservatives on the same-sex marriage issue and gave-in to the dark side under “woke” corporate pressure to do so.
Donald Trump asked Pence to be his running mate in mid-2016 even though it appeared the Indiana governor was not the nominee-to-be’s first choice. Pence had remained “neutral” during the 2016 Indiana GOP primary, opting not to throw-in with Trump or the still-alive-in-the-race Ted Cruz at the time. Therefore, Mike remained above the fray – and it apparently paid off.
According to certain insider sources in Trump’s orbit, Pence was tasked with handling pretty much everything related to domestic policy while the New York outsider’s main duty was to “Make America Great Again.” Sounds simple enough, right? Rumors abounded that Trump hesitated to go with Pence. But the rest is history.
By all outward appearances, the two men got along swimmingly and worked well together even if there wasn’t a great deal of tangible warmth between them. In early 2020, Trump brought Pence in to head-up the administration’s response to COVID and then pretty much took the reins himself – at least in the public relations aspect of the groundbreaking federal response to what was labeled a global health crisis.
The 2020 election arrived, the Electoral College slumped in the wrong direction and Pence was constitutionally in charge of counting the votes. January 6 came, January 6 went, and the Trump/Pence relationship was shattered. Since that time, both Trump and Pence have avoided excessive comment on the other – keeping it civil, you might say. But with Trump having already announced his 2024 candidacy and Pence showing signs of doing the same, how long will the high level “truce” last?
For his part, Pence won’t firmly commit to giving it a go. In a piece titled “Pence talks Trump, House GOP and plans for 2024”, Brett Samuels reported at The Hill:
“Pence’s political future in many ways hinges on how voters view him in connection to former President Trump. Pence served as Trump’s unflinchingly loyal vice president for four years, but the two have drifted apart after Pence refused Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn the 2020 election results.
“In Wednesday’s interview, Pence was careful not to overtly criticize Trump even in areas where the two disagree, though he made clear he believes the GOP will have other, better choices in the 2024 presidential race.
“Trump is the only declared candidate in the 2024 GOP field, but his campaign thus far has been marked by a lack of activity, with the former president rarely traveling outside of Florida or holding public events. Pence on Wednesday said Trump’s decision to jump into the race early will have no bearing on his own 2024 plans.”
And why should Trump’s plans have any bearing on Pence’s? It was the worst kept secret in American politics that Trump planned to run again, so if Mike were to do the same, then he must’ve already figured he would face his former boss in the intraparty competition. The eternal drama surrounding Trump certainly impacts Pence’s potential bid, but maybe in a good way.
Pence was seen then and now as the “adult in the room”. That’s one way to view it.
The Hill interview with Pence didn’t contain anything groundbreaking or shocking. The ever-careful former vice president retains his reputation for not generating controversy. Even when Pence semi-criticized Trump for the former president’s somewhat out-of-tune comments on pro-lifers (namely that abortion was the reason why Republicans didn’t do better in 2022), he did so in a way that wouldn’t enrage anyone.
Pence surmises, correctly, that any political future he may have will involve Donald Trump – and the millions of dedicated MAGA supporters who remain loyal to the 45th president. No one I know has completely renounced the Trump presidency, which works in both men’s favor. But Trump’s electability has been called into question recently – and Pence’s ability to recruit the base has never been fully tested.
The most die-hard Trump backers still hold Pence in contempt for the vice president’s refusal to publicly bow to the then president’s demands not to certify the 2020 election. As far as I know, those broken hearts haven’t healed, especially since there’s been precious little contrition or acceptance of responsibility on Pence’s part. If anything, it looks like Pence still blames Trump for the disastrous riot at the Capitol Building that provided fodder for Democrats and Trump-haters to keep talking about how awful and treasonous all Republicans are for over two years now.
Like ransom loot that’s been sprayed with dye, Pence will never shake the color of Trump on his political lapel. Even those who’ve expressed a desire to consider non-Trump candidates in the upcoming 2024 race probably wouldn’t be overly enthusiastic about diving into Mike Pence’s camp, assuming there is one. Because of his unflinching support of Trump during their administration, Pence won’t be trusted by the establishment. And the “Only Trumpers” would double their antipathy towards dealing with Pence again.
Who does that leave to sustain Pence? The conservatives I’ve talked with are primarily searching for someone with the policy gravitas of the Trump team without the incessant controversy and drama associated with the last Republican administration. As I’ve written, Ron DeSantis is often mentioned, though even the Florida governor is starting to draw critics.
Pence is still relatively young (at least compared with other national politicians from the pre-Trump era) yet there isn’t a clear path for the man to continue in elected politics. After being vice president it’s hard to fathom Pence accepting anything less than a promotion to the top job, and, for now, it seems that avenue has been blocked off from him.
Time does heal reputations, and, if given the opportunity, a polished politician with near 100 percent name and face recognition like Mike Pence could become a factor. This is probably the philosophy that Pence and his backers are banking on as we move farther away from the Trump years and more folks are turning their focus towards the future, not reliving the past.
The newly sworn-in Republican controlled House of Representatives will take most of the establishment media’s oxygen in the next few months, which is a positive for both Trump and Pence. Nancy Pelosi’s stupid January 6 Committee has been retired to the depths of political hades and soon there won’t be anyone around to dwell on what supposedly happened over two years ago in the “tourism riot”.
Liz Cheney’s smirking mug isn’t even making the evening news anymore.
A successful Mike Pence presidential candidacy doesn’t look likely at this point, but stranger things have happened in American politics. Several contenders will be vying for the “not-Trump” lane in the GOP primaries, and who’s to say Pence won’t be the one who emerges from the scrum? It’s just one more element that will make the 2024 campaign one for the ages.
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