For much of this year, former vice-president Mike Pence has gone about all the preparations needed for a 2024 presidential bid beneath a dark and unmoving cloud. In one day, January 6, he squandered the fruits of four years of abject sycophancy to Donald Trump by refusing to help him steal the 2020 presidential election via a desperate measure during the routine tabulation of electoral votes. Worse yet, as the full story of the run-up to January 6 becomes clearer, Pence appears less and less a hero defending the Constitution than a cornered political animal who eventually chose the path of least resistance and kept his role low key.
With Trump making the Big Lie of an election stolen by Biden a relentless motif as his grip on the Republican Party seems to have grown even stronger, it has been hard to understand why Pence keeps trudging toward his own candidacy. Even if Trump eventually steps aside, why would the GOP turn to a man who went from unimaginative idolatry toward the boss to a betrayal of him in his hour of need?
Pence biographer Tom LoBianco has come forth with the most plausible explanation of what might make Mike run: It’s a living.
Mike and Karen Pence are living their best lives. No, really. Almost a year after Donald Trump nearly got them murdered at the Capitol by a band of rioters trying to overturn the election, the former second couple is living in a nearly $2 million mansion in suburban Indianapolis. Mike Pence has a megawatt book deal in the bag … And the two are traveling widely, with Mike Pence getting paid upwards of $100,000 a speech, according to Republicans who spoke on background.
You see, Pence is the rare nationally prominent politician who has struggled to make ends meet (at least by the standards of his peers). He and his wife relied on gold-plated public housing — the governor’s mansion in Indiana and the vice-presidential residence in Washington — for the past eight years. He made some bad investment decisions in the past, and stock he had in his family’s gas-station chain became worthless when the company went kaput in 2004. LoBianco quotes an Indiana Republican source saying, “This is the first time they’ve had two pennies to rub together.”
The gravy train depends on Pence continuing to be in the public eye and viewed as a potential future president. And so, as I put it this year, Pence “has to put one foot in front of the other and keep making 2024 ‘lists.’”
In an odd way, Trump’s continued huffing and puffing helps Pence bump along at a sustainable level of plausibility as a candidate, keeping at bay the potentially more exciting GOP prospects who are afraid to alienate the 45th president by being perceived as pushing him onto an exit ramp. Trump’s former veep lost his MAGA mojo but has enough residual name ID and Christian-right street cred to keep him at the top of the occasional poll testing non-Trump 2024 candidates. Besides, Pence is only 62, which by Trump-Biden standards means he has several more presidential cycles in which to shed his dual reputation as a Trump toady and a Trump spoiler.
In the meantime, he won’t have to earn an honest living.