Virtually every poll conducted among rank-and-file Republicans since the 2020 election has revealed the same result. If he runs for president once more, Donald Trump would rout whatever candidate(s) might be brave enough to take him on for the 2024 GOP nomination — even in a matchup with the right’s newest heartthrob, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. But is Trump’s lead in hypothetical scenarios substantial or intimidating enough to run off any and all challengers?
It is becoming increasingly clear that, as far as Trump’s vice president is concerned, the answer is no. Indeed, Mike Pence has been working quietly and diligently, as is his wont, at building an independent power base within the Republican Party. The signals are evident, particularly in recent days, when Pence let loose with an uncharacteristic — and thinly veiled — criticism of his former boss, opining in a speech to conservative donors that “there is no room in this party for apologists” for Vladimir Putin.
The fact Pence said this right after Trump’s sarcastic characterization of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as “genius” suggests the former vice president may be attempting to draw a clear distinction with Trump and appeal to the neoconservatives who revolted over 45’s ascension. Of course, many of those neocons famously left the party altogether and worked with the left to take down the former president.
Plenty of other signs reveal active political planning by Pence. One of the most effective ways to attract the future support of other politicians is to campaign for them and build up IOUs, which come due when the presidential campaign commences.
Pence’s travel schedule of late has been telling. He has crisscrossed the country raising money, campaigning for many congressional candidates, and delivering speeches on policy.
Even more indicative is that he is writing not one but two books. And perhaps the clearest sign of all about his intentions is a list of some of the states he reportedly plans to visit in the near future: Iowa, site of the first presidential primary contest, and South Carolina, where another critical early race is scheduled.
Additional signs of a Pence candidacy abound. His political advocacy group has dropped some $10 million for midterm ads targeting vulnerable Democrats. He apparently will soon release his own “freedom agenda,” whatever that might be. And he is reportedly meeting regularly with the party’s mega-donors.
So, is there likely sufficient support for Pence to give Trump a run for his money? How would he do in a multi-candidate field — which includes Trump, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, also positioning themselves to run, with Virginia’s new Governor Glenn Youngkin already being touted as possible presidential timber — or a field without the 45th president?
How might he match up one-on-one against DeSantis? Any objective observer would have to conclude that the chances of Pence becoming the 2024 Republican presidential nominee are minimal at best.
The party has largely moved on from its traditional buttoned-down conservative image — for which Pence is ideally suited — to a populist, America First identity in the image of Trump.
This former vice president is not exactly wildly popular among the Republican base, as evidenced by his less than 1% showing in the recent CPAC poll of conservative activists. He stands little chance of being nominated and even less of being elected. The only thing of which we can be certain is that Pence challenging the former president would present the kind of divided front that would weaken Trump — a scenario Democrats could effortlessly exploit.
The nagging question is whether that is just what Pence has in mind. That does not mean a Pence candidacy would be inconsequential. The specter of a former vice president, especially this one, breaking ranks with the president who selected him would certainly provoke an intra-party feud that could bring low the GOP. Is it possible that this is just what Pence has in mind and is willing to sacrifice himself to achieve?
After refusing his president’s demand to shake up the final stage of the electoral process on Jan. 6 and taking a beating for it from Trump and his most ardent supporters, might Pence now believe about Trump what the Never Trump contingent has been shouting about for years and seek his revenge?
You can bet the mortgage that Trump’s sworn enemy Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), among other neocons, would gladly jump on a Pence bandwagon.