by Byron York
On paper, has there ever been a more qualified candidate for president than Mike Pence? Twelve years in the House of Representatives, four as governor of Indiana and four as vice president of the United States. No president in at least the last 30 years has come to office with that kind of resume.
And yet Pence, who this week formally becomes a candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination, is in a nearly impossible situation. Or maybe a totally impossible situation. And it all traces back to his four years with President Donald Trump in the White House — the period that should have set him up for a run for the presidency himself.
The short version of the situation is this: Mike Pence is both running on and running away from his record in the years 2017 to 2021. You could see that recently at a Republican gathering in Iowa in which he appeared with seven other GOP candidates.
Each candidate had 10 minutes to sell himself or herself to an audience of about 1,000 Iowa Republicans. Here’s the thing: Not one, not a single one, uttered the name “Trump.” Not even once. That included Pence. They didn’t want to praise Trump by name because, although he chose not to participate in the event, he is the leading candidate in the Iowa race — the man they’re running against. And they didn’t want to criticize Trump by name because they feared offending voters in the audience who support the former president for another run.
That led to Pence touting his accomplishments as vice president without ever naming the president. He referred to “the peace and security of just a few years ago” and cited the achievements of “the first three years of an administration that Iowa supported every step of the way.” But he never said whose administration that was. He went into some detail, nothing that the “administration” he served had rebuilt the military, revived the economy, unleashed American energy and appointed conservatives to the federal courts, including three Supreme Court justices.
“I couldn’t have been more proud to have been part of the administration that appointed three justices that sent Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history where it belongs,” Pence said. Whose administration was that? He didn’t say.
To call the moment odd would be an understatement. Pence would not say the name of the president that everyone knew. And he could only praise the “first three years” of the administration in which he served and which ended disastrously. How is that a strong platform on which to run for president?
On Jan. 6, 2021, President Trump tried to pressure Vice President Pence, who was presiding over congressional certification of the election results, to throw out the results in some key states Trump had lost. There was no legal basis for doing so, and Pence refused. It took real backbone, and Pence did the right thing, saving the nation from what could have been a constitutional crisis. He deserves enormous praise and respect for his actions that day.
But Trump has been trashing Pence ever since. So, in addition to feeling that he cannot name the administration in which he served, Pence also faces regular attacks from the president he served who just happens to be the leading candidate in the race Pence is now joining.
It’s a crazy situation. How in the world can it work out well for Pence? The short answer is, it probably won’t. Most candidates lose.
In addition, Pence faces significant competition from the conventional candidates in the race, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott and others. In the current RealClearPolitics average of polls, in addition to being 50 points behind Trump, Pence is also nearly 20 points behind DeSantis.
In any other time, Pence would be a natural presidential candidate. In today’s historically weird political world, his candidacy is deeply troubled even as it begins.