Trumpian past cost Pence his political future
BY NISKA CUMMING-BRUCE
Mike Pence has officially dropped out of the 2024 presidential election. He announced the suspension of his campaign at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual gathering in Las Vegas, stating “It’s become clear to me that this is not my time."
This marks the end of a struggling campaign, unable to raise sufficient funds – or interest. By mid-October, the former Vice-President was in over $60,000 of debt and had been floundering in the polls, averaging at around 4%. At the time of the announcement of his withdrawal, he had not even qualified for the next Republican primary debate. The problem was not that his campaign had gone downhill, but that it simply failed to gain momentum from the start.
The reasons behind Pence’s defeat can be traced back to his fallout with his former boss, Donald Trump. Aligning himself with Trump back in 2016 made sense for both of them, despite their radically different personalities. On the one hand, it was an opportunity for Pence to position himself on the national stage. On the other hand, having Pence’s name on the ballot helped calm the fears of the more conservative, evangelical base that the Republican Party hoped to appeal to. While President Trump was erratic and uninhibited, Pence could be seen as a tempered, controlled character who could perhaps be a voice of reason. Indeed, he remained a constant figure in an administration characterised by high turnover, often described as loyal to the point of subservience.
But his refusal to agree with Trump’s claims of a stolen election may have cost him his career. He alienated himself from the Trumpian base – some of whom were chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” at the January 6th attack on the Capitol. This ‘betrayal’ has not been forgotten. During his time as a candidate, Pence had to face a number of questions about his views on the riots that took place, notably from former Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson. At a recent rally in Las Vegas, Trump called Pence “disloyal”, to which several audience members shouted out “Traitor! Traitor!”, in reference to the former Vice-President. After four years of service to Trump, a single decision at the end of Pence’s term completely overshadowed his commitment to the Republican Party.
In the wake of this, Pence has tried increasingly to distance himself from the Trump administration. Over the course of his campaign, he openly opposed his former boss on a number of issues, by arguing in favour of sending arms to Ukraine and cutting back Medicare. He voiced harsh criticism of Trump’s “America First” isolationist policies. Overall, Pence took a Reaganite stance, advocating for free-market ideals, increased spending on defence, and tighter fiscal policies to address national debt. As a candidate, he represented the ‘classic’, evangelical conservative. And he had always described himself as such: “I am a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican – in that order.”
However, his brand of traditional, Christian politics was not enough to gain widespread popular support. Positioning himself so firmly with Trump back in 2016 cost him his credibility with those on the right who are more critical of Trump. By going against him, he brought on the wrath of the most popular Republican candidate’s voter base, who have labelled him a traitor.
As the first high-profile candidate to quit the race, Pence’s withdrawal is a harsh reminder of the power that Trump still holds over the Republican Party. He has had four indictments filed against him, two of which were filed during Pence’s campaign. Yet none of these seem to have weakened his hold. If anything, Pence’s demise is indicative of a transformation within the GOP. On many traditionally Republican issues, such as abortion, Pence is far more conservative than Trump, or even his runner-up in the polls Ron DeSantis. Yet Pence trailed behind both.
Rather than divided over conservative issues, the Republican Party seems to be divided along pro- or anti-Trump lines. During the first Republican primary debate, which Trump did not attend, the eight other contenders were asked if they would still support Trump as a nominee if he were a convicted felon. Six raised their hands, including Pence. As things stand, it appears likely that Trump will be the Republican nominee. As of the 1st of November, eight Republican candidates are still in the running. Trump has a definite lead in the polls with 60% of registered Republicans’ support, according to FiveThirtyEight. The rest are lagging behind by a significant margin, with DeSantis coming in at second place with 14%. As it becomes clearer that the Republican Party has moved away from ‘classic’ American conservativism, it seems more and more likely that it will continue to embrace Trumpian-style populist politics.
Pence alluded to this potential future of his political party in his speech, urging fellow Republicans to elect someone who will lead with “civility.” But that may no longer be the kind of candidate that the Republican Party is looking for.
Image: Flick/ Gage Skidmore