The Sad, Unconvincing Case for Pence 2024

Pence trudges along toward oblivion. Photo: Charles Krupa/AP/Shutterstock

Back in April 2021, while assessing former vice-president Mike Pence’s apparent aspirations to become president in 2024, I described him as trudging toward oblivion, having distinguished himself with four years of the most cringingly embarrassing toadying behavior toward Donald Trump followed by betrayal of the Boss’s final bid for reelection on January 6. Pence had fallen between two stools in the most dramatic way imaginable; while Republicans had mixed feelings about him, he had no obvious path forward in the party, given his original Christian Nationalist constituency’s abiding passion for Trump.

Nevertheless, Pence is still trudging toward 2024, and the self-delusion that propels him onward is inadvertently revealed in Tom LoBianco’s report on the Hoosier’s bright future as “the shadow front-runner” in Vanity Fair today. LoBianco, it should be noted, is a former Indiana reporter who has written a book about Pence, so it would be understandable if he feels a bit invested in the former veep’s viability in national politics. But for whatever reason, the piece channels Team Pence’s spin about the former veep’s path to the presidency — and in doing so, it reveals just how unlikely it really is.

The piece begins by noting, “For a long time, the conventional wisdom among Republicans has been that Trump ended Pence’s political career on January 6, convincing his die-hard base that Pence was the Benedict Arnold of their revolution.” In this case, the conventional wisdom is almost certainly true. By any measure, Trump’s grip on the Republican Party is growing, not fading, and if he chooses to run in 2024, Pence would barely represent a speed bump in his way. Even if Trump declines to run, he will have enormous impact as MAGA kingmaker, and that’s where Pence’s behavior on January 6 will doom him. The more we know about that fateful day, the more it is apparent that Trump’s strategy for staying in office was totally based on an effort to convince Pence to steal the election by counting out Joe Biden or by throwing the results into doubt by adjourning the special congressional session he presided over that confirmed the Democrat’s victory. We know that Pence was vacillating about what to do right up to the morning of January 6 itself. It was not an attractive look, and if Pence persists in running for president, the facts will belie the idea he was a brave and resolute constitutionalist standing like a rock against the raging MAGA winds.

But LoBianco (and presumably the Pence associates whispering to him) ignores all that and asserts that Trump’s weakening position in the GOP was proved by Glenn Youngkin’s November 2021 gubernatorial win in Virginia, which showed the viability of Pence’s bid to become leader of a post-Trump party: “Pence, like many other Republicans, campaigned with Youngkin at private events, but Trump was kept away — and the lesson of his absence sunk in quickly.”

To be blunt about it, Pence wasn’t significant enough to be “kept away” from Youngkin’s state-focused campaign, unlike Trump, who was the obsessive focus of Terry McAuliffe’s failed efforts to keep Democrats energized. Plus Youngkin, who accepted Trump’s endorsement, was running for governor, not president. No Republican running for national office for the foreseeable future will be able to ignore Trump or his bogus claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him by Democrats with the complicity of RINOs like Mike Pence.

The most risible claim about Pence’s political status involves the impact of Pence’s complicity: “Pence has tap-danced around the events of January 6 ever since, even while fallout from the insurrection has kept his name consistently in the news — a level of exposure invaluable to any politician looking to win the highest office in the land.”

This “any coverage is good coverage” take would suggest that perhaps Andrew Cuomo is perfectly positioned for a huge political comeback. There’s little doubt that in MAGA-land, Pence’s betrayal of the greatest president in history on January 6 and his refusal to apologize for it subsequently are far worse than Trump’s history of bullying and alleged sexual harassment (traits viewed, in fact, as signs of strength and character among some of the former president’s admirers).

If, as LoBianco asserts, Trump is so weak and Pence is so strong, you’d think maybe the latter would proudly declare independence from the former and push him aside. All in good time, we are told:

At least one of Pence’s Republican allies has been quietly pushing the former vice president to attack Trump directly, according to the longtime Indiana Republican. But Pence’s team has brushed back those suggestions for now, charting a more genteel course while waiting to see how the 2024 field shapes up. “Now’s not the right time,” said one Indiana Republican who expects to support Pence should he officially declare for 2024.  

I’m sorry, but the case for Pence ’24 just isn’t credible. If Republicans want to continue the MAGA path they have chosen, they have the Man himself or his designated successor, who will decidedly not be Benedict Arnold Pence. And in the unlikely event that they choose to go in a different direction, there are around 30 or 40 prominent possibilities — including, come to think of it, Glenn Youngkin — who are not guilty of what LoBianco refers to as behavior toward Trump “obsequious to the point of parody.” He rightly notes that Pence’s original path to the presidency was to serve two terms as Trump’s veep and win the presidential nomination as a matter of course, much like George H.W. Bush in 1988 or Al Gore in 2000 (though both men actually had to fight for it). That all ended on January 6, 2021. So now Pence is likely to wind up like his friend and fellow Hoosier Dan Quayle, the former veep who ran a humiliatingly unsuccessful 2000 presidential campaign after losing the vice-presidency in 1992. Yet Pence sojourns on, proving that inertia is the path of least resistance for politicians who have lost their way.

The Sad, Unconvincing Case for Pence 2024