WASHINGTON (AP) – When former President Donald Trump was asked to list those he sees as the future leaders of the Republican Party, he quickly put together a list of names, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. Obviously missing from the list: Mike Pence.
The former vice president returns to public life regularly as he contemplates a potential White House candidacy in 2024. He joins conservative organizations, writes opinion pieces, delivers speeches and launches an advocacy group that will focus on promoting the achievements of the Trump administration.
But Trump’s neglect in mentioning Pence in a podcast interview earlier this month signals the former vice president’s unique challenge. For someone who has built a reputation as one of Trump’s staunchest supporters, Pence is now viewed with suspicion among many Republicans for fulfilling his constitutional duty in January to facilitate a peaceful transfer of power to the United States. administration, a move that still infuriates Trump.
To win in a Republican presidential primary, Pence may need to strengthen his loyalty to Trump while defending his decisions in the final days of the administration when the president falsely alleged widespread electoral fraud, contributing to a deadly riot at the US Capitol. If anyone can strike that awkward balance, some Republicans say, it’s Pence.
“Anyone who can get Ted Cruz’s endorsement and become Donald Trump’s running mate should not be counted,” said Republican strategist Alice Stewart, who worked for Cruz’s presidential campaign in 2016 when Pence l ‘approved. “He has a way of parting hair and threading the needle that has paid off in the past.”
Pence aides generally ignore talks about the upcoming presidential election. They insist he is focusing on his family and next year’s midterm elections, when Republicans are in a good position to win back at least one house of Congress. Allies say that over time the anger will subside.
“I think 2024 is far away and if Mike Pence runs for president he will appeal to the Republican base in a way that will make him a serious candidate,” said Republican Jim Banks of Indiana, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee. and has already approved a 2024 Pence run. “If and when Mike Pence gets back on the plate, I think he’s going to have a strong appeal among Republicans across the country.
Pence declined to comment for this story. For their part, Trump’s aides caution against overreading the omission during the podcast interview.
“It was not an exclusive list,” Trump adviser Jason Miller said. Still, Trump continued to mock Pence in the interview, mistakenly claiming that Pence had the power to unilaterally overrule the election results, even though he didn’t.
Trump has not said whether he will seek the White House again in 2024. If he does not, other Republicans are making it clear that they will not cede the race to Pence. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for example, is already visiting key critical states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Since his departure in January, Pence, who served as governor of Indiana and a congressman before being named Trump’s vice president, has kept a lower profile. He has built a portfolio aimed at maintaining his influence, paying the bills and laying the groundwork for an expected presidential race.
He forged a partnership with the curator Heritage Foundation and was even discussed as a potential president of the organization, according to two people familiar with the discussions. He joined the Young America’s Foundation and a speaker office, wrote an op-ed for the Daily Signal in which he perpetuated lies about the 2020 election, and recently visited a Christian relief organization in North Carolina. He will deliver his first public speech since leaving next month at the Palmetto Family Council’s annual fundraiser in South Carolina, another crucial primary state.
Pence also discussed writing a book, according to assistants, continued his conversation with his evangelical allies and plans to spend much of the next two years helping Republican candidates as they attempt to win back majorities. House and Senate in 2022. He also plans to launch an advocacy organization that aides and allies say will give him a platform to defend the Trump administration’s record and push back the policies of the current president as he he tries to merge the traditional conservative movement with Trumpism.
“He’s doing what he needs to do to lay the groundwork in case he wants to set up an exploratory committee,” said Stewart. “You have to make the money, lay the groundwork, assess the support, and then pull the trigger.”
Pence’s allies see him as Trump’s natural heir, someone who can keep his base engaged while winning back suburban voters who left the party en masse during Trump’s time.
“Obviously Mike Pence has a very different personality, a very different tone. That’s probably an understatement, ”said former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a longtime friend who now heads the Young America’s Foundation. “As long as he can still talk about the things that interest Trump voters, but do it in a way that more reflects a sort of Midwesterner, which I think … would be appealing to those voters.”
Skeptics, meanwhile, see another milquetoast white old man saddled with Trump’s baggage, but without his charisma. For these critics, Pence is a sycophant who degraded himself for four years to avoid Trump’s wrath – to take the blame when Trump wrongly insisted that Pence could unilaterally reverse the election results. from 2020.
Anger at Pence took a dangerously personal turn on January 6 when rioters marched through the Capitol chanting “Hang on Mike Pence” as a crowd outside set up a makeshift gallows. During Trump’s impeachment trial for starting the insurgency, a video was shown showing Pence rushing to safety, sheltering in an office with his family just 30 yards from the rioters.
Signs that many GOP members still hold Pence responsible for losing the election have dotted the highway in many of Trump’s strongholds, where duct tape and markers obscure his name on flags and lawn signs. Trump-Pence.
Meanwhile, others, like Pompeo, are trying to claim the Trump coat without so much baggage.
“In a lot of ways, I think his future is in Trump’s hands,” longtime Republican pollster Whit Ayres said of Pence. If Trump publicly praises Pence as a loyal lieutenant, Ayers said, he can see him as a viable candidate. But if Trump continues to publicly blame Pence for their loss in November, “he’s raising a toast,” Ayres said.
In the meantime, Pence has tried to project the impression that he and the former president have mended fences, referring to their conversations during a meeting last month with members of the conservative Republican study committee. Pence and Trump have spoken to each other several times since leaving, according to the two men’s assistants.
“He was very complimentary to President Trump and he told us that he and President Trump had spoken and remembered the administration’s great accomplishments and all that,” said Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., Who was present.
While Johnson acknowledged the tensions in the administration’s final days “obviously adds a degree of difficulty” for Pence, he argued the former vice president could overcome the concern by focusing on political achievements from Trump.
“He helped achieve those goals and thus claims that legacy,” Johnson said.
“I think if he comes in he is a viable candidate,” added Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, whose support could give Pence a boost if he becomes a candidate. “He is a force to be reckoned with.”