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Mike Pence Plots His Presidential Bid
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Mike Pence Plots His Presidential Bid

But some question what the former vice president’s electoral path to the White House looks like.

Former Vice President Mike Pence at a Heritage Foundation event in October 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Sometime on or before June 30, Mike Pence will likely launch a White House bid in his home state of Indiana. The former vice president would then immediately travel to Iowa to compete for the support of Republican caucus-goers, who have the first say in the GOP’s 2024 nominating contests. 

Pence plans to campaign as the traditional conservative he is, eschewing momentary cultural flashpoints that inflame passions and attract eyeballs on cable television and social media, such as the uproar over Bud Light’s marketing partnership with transgender TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney. The former vice president will instead focus on wonky topics fraught with political peril, like how to address the ballooning federal debt and reforming popular programs like Social Security and Medicare. 

On abortion, Pence is eager to highlight his opposition—and his commitment to signing federal legislation limiting the procedure.

In doing so, sources say, Pence would aim fire directly at former President Donald Trump. The strategy, which Pence hinted at during an April 14 speech to Republican National Committee donors, is to cast his old boss as a backward, grievance-fueled populist who cannot defeat President Joe Biden while touting his own agenda as positive, future-oriented, and the antidote to what ails a GOP that has faltered in three consecutive national elections.

“If 2022 taught us anything, it’s that candidates that were focused on the challenges facing American families did well. But candidates focused on the past, on litigating the last election, did not do well,” Pence said. “We must resist the temptation to put what is popular over what is wise, and resist the politics of personality and the lure of populism unmoored to timeless conservative values.”

In preparation for a campaign, Pence is accelerating his travel to the key early primary states and beyond.

This Saturday, Pence hits Iowa for a candidate forum catering to social conservatives; the next day he’s in Atlanta for an event at a megachurch as part of an ongoing national “church tour.” More trips to Iowa, plus New Hampshire and South Carolina, are on tap for May. As has been the case recently, expect Pence to run a campaign that puts him in regular contact with reporters and emphasizes town-hall style events. 

The former vice president wants to prioritize getting out from behind the podium and engaging with voters in question-and-answer sessions and one-on-one conversations.

Pence’s political team declined to comment Thursday. But Republicans close to him expect Pence to seek the White House despite long odds in the primary. Another indication: Pence is expected to travel to Las Vegas in October to address the Republican Jewish Coalition, which is gathering for a conference described as a “cattle call” for GOP presidential candidates.

“When Mike Pence was a third -or fourth-term member of Congress he was giving speeches at conservative events in Iowa,” said a Republican insider in Indiana. “Mike Pence has been thinking about running for president—probably since high school.”

Pence, 63, has a sterling resume: unassailable conservative bona fides; former high-ranking congressman; former Indiana governor; 48th vice president and loyal Trump running mate through two elections. Pence never undermined the 45th president during myriad White House scandals, and his addition to the Republican ticket in 2016 helped convince suspicious conservative voters to take a chance on a thrice-married television personality and wealthy businessman who jettisoned key aspects of party dogma.

The elephant in the room, to borrow an apt cliché, is that Pence’s path to the 2024 nomination appears uncertain. 

Pence has been met with far more applause than boos while traveling the country, first on behalf of Republican candidates in 2022 and now on his presumed presidential bid. But party insiders are hard pressed to figure out how Pence emerges from an acrimonious falling out with Trump and deep resentment from a crucial segment of the GOP because he refused the former president’s unconstitutional demand to overturn results of the 2020 election on January 6, 2021. That has left Pence languishing below 5 percent support in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls gauging voter sentiment in the primary contest, far behind Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“I like Mike Pence, I think he’s a heck of a good guy. I just don’t see how he wins,” a veteran Republican operative said. “What are people going to learn about him that they don’t already know?”

Other Republicans, especially those who have known him for several years, say it’s too soon to write him off. 

For more than two decades, the former vice president has cultivated relationships across all factions of the GOP, and is advised by a team of senior Republican operatives with years of experience in party politics: Josh Pitcock, his first chief of staff in the West Wing; Chip Saltsman, a well-connected Republican strategist who understands the terrain in the key early primary states; Marc Short, his last chief of staff and enforcer; and lawyer Greg Jacob.

Jacob, who Pence has come to lean on for more than legal advice, was Pence’s counsel in the vice president’s office. Pence relied on Jacob to arm him with the constitutional research and reasoning he used—in vain—to explain to Trump and his acolytes that the vice president was not empowered to ignore the outcome of the 2020 election and hand the commander in chief a second term. 

But the main reason some Republicans aren’t ready to close the door on Pence 2024 is fundraising. “He is a prolific fundraiser,” a Republican operative fond of Pence said. “Unlike other candidates, he should have the resources and infrastructure when others start dropping out.”

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.