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A Struggling Mike Pence Takes the Spotlight
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A Struggling Mike Pence Takes the Spotlight

Plus: Donald Trump channels Republican voters’ animus for the GOP.

Former Vice President Mike Pence greets people as he arrives at a campaign event in Londonderry, New Hampshire, on August 4, 2023. (Photo by JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

Happy Monday! We’re just dying to be a fly on the wall at the next Kennedy Thanksgiving dinner after reading this story from Peter Baker of the New York Times about how Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign is roiling his famous family. Here’s one of RFK Jr.’s sisters: “He has done a lot of good for many, many people. … I just don’t want all that to get lost in the maelstrom around his more controversial statements and views.”

Up to Speed

  • Voters aren’t yet buying President Joe Biden’s economic message, despite a deliberate effort to cast his administration’s policies in a positive light under the “Bidenomics”  brand. While poll numbers show voters are cool on the Democrat’s economic policy, Politico reports that White House aides “remain confident the bet will pay off, adopting the mantra of the hockey legend Wayne Gretzky: Skate to where the puck is going, not where it is now.”
  • Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota said on CBS News’ Face the Nation on Sunday that he has “not decided yet” whether he will challenge Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2024. Phillips added that he believes he’s “well positioned” to run for president someday but not “well positioned to run for it right now,” and called on other Democrats to throw their hat in the ring.
  • Ohio voters head to the polls Tuesday for a special election to amend the state’s constitution. If passed, State Issue 1 would raise the required threshold for any future constitutional amendments from a simple majority of Ohio voters to 60 percent. The proposal is being pushed by and generally supported by Republicans, who have expressly stated that they want to make a constitutional amendment enshrining the right to abortion harder to pass when that amendment is on the ballot this November.
  • Former President Donald Trump said in a social media post on Sunday that he plans to ask for a judge recusal in the latest Justice Department indictment against him. The indictment, unsealed last week, centers on his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. “THERE IS NO WAY I CAN GET A FAIR TRIAL WITH THE JUDGE “ASSIGNED” TO THE RIDICULOUS FREEDOM OF SPEECH/FAIR ELECTIONS CASE. EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS, AND SO DOES SHE!” Trump wrote. Trump also said he plans to request the case be moved out of Washington.
  • Federal prosecutors investigating Donald Trump’s alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election asked Judge Tanya Chutkan to issue a protective order prohibiting the former president from publicly discussing any sensitive material involving his ongoing case. Prosecutors flagged a social media post in which Trump wrote: “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!” Chutkan said on Saturday that Trump’s lawyers have until 5 p.m. Monday to respond to the order.

A Struggling Pence Finds Relevance With Trump Indictment

At first glance, former Vice President Mike Pence looks like a presidential candidate on his way out. His support is stagnant in the low single digits in both national and early-primary-state polls. He is still scrambling to get on the debate stage later this month, though the Pence campaign continues to promise reporters that the Hoosier Republican will reach the necessary threshold of 40,000 unique donors.

Not only does Pence’s neo-Reaganite, traditionalist conservative message seem out-of-touch with the populist fervor of the GOP primary base—supporters of the frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, are even showing up at his campaign events to heckle him as a disloyal traitor. NBC News reports over the weekend:

As soon as the former vice president arrived at the American Legion Hall in Londonderry, New Hampshire, he encountered about 10 pro-Trump protesters carrying flags and signs.

“There’s the sellout! There’s the traitor!” they yelled at Pence as he exited his vehicle. “Why’d you sell out the people?”

This summer of struggle for Pence comes even as he finds himself more relevant to the conversation around 2024 than ever, thanks to the latest federal indictment of Trump over his actions in the days and weeks after the 2020 election. Pence plays a crucial supporting role in the story the indictment tells, refusing to go along with Trump’s efforts to have him delay the counting of electoral votes on January 6, 2021. At one point in the indictment, federal prosecutors relay a moment in which Trump expresses his frustration at Pence’s refusal to comply with the scheme, telling his vice president, “You’re too honest.”

Over the last several days, Pence and his campaign have tried to take advantage of the renewed attention the indictment has brought him. He has made several appearances with national media outlets to defend his actions in more colorful language than the staid Republican usually employs.

“Let’s be clear on this point: It wasn’t that they asked for a pause,” Pence told Fox News last week. “The president specifically asked me and his gaggle of crackpot lawyers asked me to literally reject votes.”

Pence has said he has no plans to testify in a future trial of these charges, but said in two separate TV interviews on Sunday that he would do what was legally required of him. 

“I have no plans to testify, but, look, we’ll always comply with the law,” Pence told CNN

“We’ll respond to the call of the law if it comes and we’ll just tell the truth,” Pence told CBS News.

Pence’s campaign has even begun to sell merchandise including Trump’s unintended compliment, “Too Honest.”

And while Trump continues to dominate Pence and his other rivals in the polls, he called out his erstwhile running mate over the weekend.

“Liddle’ Mike Pence, a man who was about to be ousted as Governor Indiana until I came along and made him V.P., has gone to the Dark Side,” Trump posted on his proprietary social media site, Truth Social.

Trump’s Staying Power Fueled by a Disgruntled GOP Base

Pence’s image as a traditional Republican may be a real limit to his appeal in a modern GOP presidential primary. As our own David Drucker reports in a new story, Republican primary voters have a special resentment for the party itself. Here’s a taste:

When Donald Trump intensified attacks on Ron DeSantis early this year, the Florida governor snapped at the former president for smearing a fellow Republican rather than targeting the real political enemy: President Joe Biden. Wrong Answer. For the Republican Party’s committed voting base, the real political enemy is, in fact, the Republican Party—and no Republican running for president channels that sentiment like Trump. 

This underappreciated dynamic is a key factor that explains both why grassroots Republicans have remained loyal to the former president through a cascade of political defeats and criminal indictments, and why his competitors for the 2024 nomination—not just DeSantis, but so many others—are struggling to gain traction in the GOP primary. 

“It’s understated how much Republican primary voters hate the political system—including the Republican Party. Anyone who succeeds Trump will also show disdain for the Republican Party, and that’s something that does not come natural to them,” a veteran Republican consultant says.

A GOP pollster tells The Dispatch this phenomenon shows up consistently in his surveys of Republican primary voters, who give their party an abysmal average favorability rating of just 60 percent to 65 percent. The same polls show 15 percent to 20 percent of Republican voters view the GOP unfavorably. The picture is more bleak when taking into account the intensity of the support: Even among those Republican primary voters who hold positive opinions of the party, only 25 percent rate their opinion as “very favorable.” 

That leaves 75 percent of GOP voters who either view the party negatively or whose approval is lukewarm at best. “That’s sad,” the pollster says. To contextualize these numbers, he explains that, “if this were a candidate—that’s not great.”

Read the whole thing here.

Notable and Quotable

“From sometime in the middle of December, the president began to be told that I had some authority to reject or return votes back to the states … I had no such authority.”

—Former Vice President Mike Pence speaking about Trump with CBS News on Sunday, August 6

Also Notable and Quotable

“What President Trump didn’t do is direct Vice President Pence to do anything … He asked him in an aspirational way.”

—Trump lawyer John F. Lauro speaking with CNN on Sunday, August 6

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.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.

Michael Warren is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was an on-air reporter at CNN and a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. When Mike is not reporting, writing, editing, and podcasting, he is probably spending time with his wife and three sons.