“We’re giving it consideration in our house — prayerful consideration.”
That was former Vice President Mike Pence, telling ABC News last month that he’s contemplating a run against his former boss and the only entry in the 2024 presidential election thus far, Donald Trump, a man he served dutifully for four long, tumultuous years.
When asked if Trump should be president again, he demurred, saying, “That’s up to the American people. But I think we’ll have better choices in the future.”
But Pence’s flirtation with higher office begs an obvious question: Who are his friends? Who are the Republicans in leadership who will help him get there? And most importantly, who are “Mike Pence voters”?
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One doesn’t have to look too hard to realize Pence is somewhat stranded out in the political wilderness, without a pathway or a natural constituency to lead him back to relevance.
Among the GOP’s biggest base of voters are the MAGA crowd. And we largely know how they feel about him — they told us as they marched on the Capitol on Jan. 6, yelling “Hang Mike Pence!”
His refusal to block the certification of Joe Biden’s win in 2020 has made him persona non grata among most Trump voters. As GOP strategist Sarah Longwell told Politico’s Adam Wren for a long feature out this week, “Mike Pence could not go to a Trump rally and be safe.”
Not a great start to a presidential campaign, needless to say.
On the other side of the party lie the moderate Republicans and Never-Trumpers who see Pence as a sell-out. Despite that momentary attack of conscience in January 2021, Pence was nothing if not loyal to Trump — painfully so.
Suddenly Pence, well-known for his family values and faith, was on the ticket with a guy who bragged about grabbing women by the genitals.
Pence had been a staunch opponent of protectionist trade policy and an isolationist foreign policy, and here he was running with pro-tariffs and anti-interventionist Trump’s agenda.
Once one of the fiercest deficit hawks and spending-cut warriors in the Republican House, Pence watched supportively as Trump exploded the debt and deficit and spent trillions.
The Mike Pence that conservatives once respected was gone.
And lest you think that loyalty earned him anything useful, his relationship with his former boss effectively ended on Jan. 6, 2021, with Trump calling Pence a “wimp” and a “p*ssy,” according to aides.
You’d think that Pence would have used that opportunity for a clean break from the guy who lost the House, the Senate and the White House for Republicans, not to mention whose inciting rhetoric could have gotten him killed. But it’s clear Pence somehow thinks he can split the baby — lightly criticizing Trump to re-ingratiate himself with the Never-Trump crowd, while defending Trump to keep MAGA happy.
Except in trying to please everyone, he’s pleasing no one.
Pence’s light criticism of obvious ills — Trump’s “reckless rhetoric” on Jan. 6, for example, Trump’s dinner with a white nationalist and an antisemite, or Trump’s declaration that the Constitution be terminated — sounds briefly like a real pivot.
But it’s later vitiated when Pence boasts about Trump’s record, says he was proud to be his vice president, dismisses the Jan. 6 Committee as a political distraction, and still delusionally insists they “parted amicably.”
In the midterms, Pence squandered yet another opportunity to better define his lane and his voter base. While he endorsed several candidates running against Trump’s, he also endorsed people like Blake Masters in Arizona, Diego Morales in Indiana, and at least eight others who questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election — the very thing that sent a horde of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers to the Capitol to harm him.
So, who is Mike Pence and what does he stand for? Few seem to know — or care. While Pence has made several trips to South Carolina, Iowa and New Hampshire to dip his toes in the 2024 race, he was booed at a Faith & Freedom Coalition conference — by Republicans. At CPAC, he got a mere 1% of the straw poll votes for president in 2021 and 2022.
Efforts to find support for his presidential run among GOP insiders come up short.
In 2013, I interviewed Pence for a magazine feature titled, “The Face of the GOP’s Future.” That Pence knew who he was. He admired Ronald Reagan’s principled conservatism, and “a gentleness and a respect for every American and a deep love for this country,” as he put it.
“And I truly believe that as I go forward in my career, I’ll always seek to manifest those same aspirational qualities.”
Can Pence return to that version of himself? It’s clear he doesn’t know — and neither does anyone else.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.
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