Mike Pence is looking to set his feet on the comeback trail. But an honest look at his chances doesn’t bode well for him; since 2016, the only thing Mike Pence has won is the GOP’s Race Bannon Look-Alike Contest, and it’s not looking like that will change in 2024. That won’t stop him from trying; he’ll be on the debate stage with the other candidates next week, except, perhaps, the front-runner.
Each campaign has been workshopping an answer to a version of the question that MacCallum and Baier will inevitably ask next week. For instance, to cut to the chase, they might press the candidates on whether they believe former Vice President Pence correctly certified the results of the 2020 election, and whether they would’ve done the same. This could be perilous for everyone except, well, Pence.
“He’s been clear that elections are about the future, not the past, and failure to recognize that was something that plagued our party in 2022. Having said that, his courageous actions on Jan. 6 will always be a differentiator between himself and Trump,” Marc Short, a senior Pence advisor, told RealClearPolitics.
“Long term, it will reflect more positively on Pence,” he added, “and will no doubt be a part of the conversation in this debate and future debates.”
I think that’s a trifle optimistic. And by “trifle” I mean “overwhelmingly.” Mike Pence is not going anywhere in the GOP primary. He won’t be a factor in the 2024 Presidential election.
Why? There are four reasons.
First, because whether or not Donald Trump shows up at the debate, his supporters will be tuned in. There are a lot of them. And a lot of them, for a variety of reasons, aren’t big fans of Mike Pence. Of course, that isn’t stopping Pence’s campaign from trying to spin the Jan 6 issue in their favor; nor should it, of course; they are doing their jobs in trying to present their candidate in a positive light.
“Ron DeSantis is flopping. Donald Trump is getting indicted. People are taking a closer look at Mike,” said Bobby Saparow, executive director of the pro-Pence super PAC, Committed to America. “He is right in the mix,” the GOP operative, who helped Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp fend off a Trump-backed challenger last year, told RCP. “It’s a way to get earned media attention, but he is resonating and climbing because people are looking for an alternative.”
But that’s not going to fly with a lot of Trump’s supporters, and whether Pence’s people admit it or not, Donald Trump, indictments or not, is still the 800-pound gorilla in this fight, and spinning Jan 6 in Pence’s favor is not going to win over Trump’s supporters, even if Trump, for whatever reason, drops out of the race.
Second, Mike Pence is barely showing up in the polls, running fourth with a 5.4 percent share in the RealClearPolitics average as of this writing. He’s ahead of Nikki Haley; that’s not nothing, but it’s just to the left of nothing. His campaign has started awkwardly. At this point in the game, his campaign should be gaining some traction, and he’s just not. Part of that is because Donald Trump is sucking all the oxygen out of the room; part of it is because the second-place candidate has a long record of achievements that a lot of GOP voters would love to see taken on the road.
Third: He doesn’t have a lot of charisma, a valuable attribute when you’re running for the top spot. Barack Obama, after all, proved that a candidate with charisma but no discernible intelligence, talent, experience, or qualifications can win a POTUS election. It’s a lot harder for a candidate like Mike Pence, who has experience and qualifications but doesn’t appeal to people on a personal level the way a good candidate should. A big part of Donald Trump’s 2016 appeal was style; he knew how to interact with people at a level Mike Pence just doesn’t seem to be as able to reach. As Oscar Wilde wrote, “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.” Mike Pence has plenty of sincerity but no style to speak of.
Fourth, the Pence campaign faces other obstacles. There are just too many odds stacked against him. The establishment will reject him because he was Donald Trump’s Vice President. The MAGA cohort, which now is a significant part of the Republican Party, will not support him because of Jan 6th. The DeSantis camp? Ron DeSantis is at the moment running a distant second, but I don’t see most DeSantis supporters suddenly popping onto Team Pence if their guy drops out. That would likely be the point in the primary campaign where people start to coalesce around the front-runner – hopefully.