INDIANAPOLIS — Mike Pence and I used to compare career notes at Acapulco Joe’s back in the days when he was beginning his radio show and I, Howey Politics Indiana. In 2010, I wrote that the congressman should run for president, saying it might be his best and only opportunity.
Then there was Aug. 8, 2019 column, when I suggested Vice President Pence might want to drop off of President Trump’s reelection campaign.
My analysis was that it’s a “reckless” course for Pence, with my penultimate paragraph reading: “This is flint and spark in extreme drought conditions. President Trump is not uniting Americans, he is exploiting the urban/rural divide along racial lines that are pulled taut these days. An errant spark goaded by the right quote at the wrong time could have devastating consequences.”
Like this one: “And I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so. Because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election.”
And this: “Now, it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. And after this, we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down … because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”
I hadn’t envisioned the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection specifically, but something like it. And my final paragraph: “Now Pence risks taking on all of the incendiary baggage of Trump. The shrewdest move Mike Pence could make today is to decline a second veep nomination, then prepare for 2024 on his own terms.”
We now all know that the Trump/Pence ticket did run again in 2020. They lost the election by 7 million votes, the Electoral College 306-232, with the backdrop being Trump’s persistent “Big Lie” about the 2020 election that wasn’t stolen. And that led to the fateful day of Jan. 6, when Trump goaded an armed mob to attack the U.S. Capitol. The rebellion came within a few dozen feet from their goal that day, which was, in their words, “Hang Mike Pence.”
Pence waited out the assault at a subterranean Capitol loading dock, finished his constitutional duty around 3 a.m. Jan. 7, declaring that Joe Biden would ascend to the presidency. And he’s been in the GOP purgatory ever since.
Since Donald Trump took that fateful escalator ride in Manhattan in 2015, launching an era in which he won two GOP presidential nominations, he’s won the Electoral College once, has never won the popular vote, was impeached twice, and blew GOP congressional majorities like the second coming of Herbert Hoover, establishing his narcissistic fascist credo along the way.
According to Nathan Gonzales writing in Roll Call, “There simply isn’t a viable path to the Oval Office for Pence.” He cites an April Echelon Insights Poll that shows Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis leading Pence 34-14% in a field without Trump, as well as a New York Times/Siena Poll showing Trump leading DeSantis 49-24% with Pence at 6%.
“Even though Pence has nearly universal name ID among Republicans, there just isn’t an appetite for the former vice president in the Republican Party right now,” Gonzalez observes. “The former Indiana congressman has lost credibility with both factions of today’s GOP.”
Republican strategist Sarah Longwell told MSNBC’s Morning Joe that focus groups she’s conducted during the Jan. 6 committee hearings are gradually drawing GOP voters away from Trump, but added, “there couldn’t be any less interest” in Pence.
Last Friday and again on Tuesday, Pence and Trump engaged in a proxy war flare-up over the Arizona gubernatorial race (featuring a Trump-backed election denier and the Pence-backed establishment candidate). Trump drew a crowd of several thousand to whom he insisted he had been “persecuted.” Pence drew about 300.
On Tuesday, Pence was in Washington addressing the Young America Foundation where he took on “big tech, big media and big government.”
“I don’t know that the president and I differ on issues, but we may differ on focus,” Pence continued, referring to Trump. “I truly do believe that elections are about the future, and that it’s absolutely essential.”
Trump spoke on the same day about a mile away and spent his time before his First America Group focused on “cesspool America” and the “stolen” 2020 election. It was a redux of his 2017 “American carnage” inaugural address.
Trump described an America whose “streets are riddled with needles and soaked with the blood of innocent victims;” he warned of “sadists who prey on children” while “the dangerously deranged roam our streets with impunity.” He said the U.S. should emulate China’s criminal justice system with its “two-hour quick trials” for defendants.
David Drucker of the Washington Examiner described the showdown as “the most acrimonious American political divorce in generations. Not since President Theodore Roosevelt turned on his protege, William Howard Taft, has the nation seen something similar.”
Trump was playing to his aggrieved base, who don’t care a whit about policy. He is poised to take his base over the cliff in 2024.
The polls present a reckoning for Mike Pence. They are telling him ... wait until ‘28. Let the Trump fever break. Follow the Richard Nixon strategy of 1966 and be there for down ballot Republicans, then run two years hence.
But, hey, what the hell do I know?
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.
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