At a spry 64 years old, former Vice President Mike Pence is celebrating.
Wednesday was his birthday. It’s also the day he formally announced his run for president.
It’s a strange and circuitous series of events that led him from a promising future as a GOP rising star to here, polling at 7% among GOP primary voters, filing the paperwork on Monday to run against his former boss, Donald Trump — whose supporters marched on the Capitol just two years ago chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!”
Now Pence hopes to win those same voters, voters who were so loyal to Trump they still blame Pence for failing to help overturn a democratic election.
But it’s worse than that. He’ll need those voters — Trump supporters who will presumably vote for Trump in the Republican primary — and others, including conservatives whom Trump lost as well as moderates and independents to have a shot at winning.
The 2024 primary and general elections will be a big game of math — who can add, and who still feels content to shrink the base down to its angriest and most aggrieved. (See: frontrunners Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis).
I’ve been open in my cynicism about Pence’s prospects, writing that “one doesn’t have to look too hard to realize Pence is somewhat stranded out in the political wilderness, without a pathway or a natural constituency to lead him back to relevance.”
That’s because he’s uniquely seen in one way or another as a traitor by most Republicans. Those on the far-right think he betrayed Trump, and Never-Trump conservatives and center-right moderates think he sold out his principles to carry Trump’s water. Who, exactly, is left?
Perhaps 2024 Pence is hoping to resurrect 2014 Pence, who was seen by many as a viable presidential prospect for 2016.
Here was the Washington Post in December of 2014, six months before Trump would descend the golden escalator to announce his bid:
“Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has strong ideas about what the next Republican presidential nominee should be like. A ‘solutions conservative’ with a record of policy reform originating in the states. A candidate versed in foreign affairs who envisions a muscular role for the United States in the world. And someone who is ‘relentlessly optimistic’ — and capable of attracting new voters to the Republican Party as Ronald Reagan did a generation ago. As it happens, that sounds an awful lot like Mike Pence.”
By anyone’s standards that’s a glowing review of a very conservative deficit hawk and Christian warrior who’d dutifully made his way through Congress to the Indiana Statehouse.
By May of 2015, he announced he wouldn’t seek the nomination and instead said he’d seek reelection as governor. In July of 2016 he dropped out of the Indiana race to announce he’d accept the nomination for Trump’s vice president.
But imagine if Pence had remained governor through a second term while Trump went off to light the country on fire and betray nearly every conservative tenet Pence had believed in along the way.
From Trump’s anti-protectionism to his America First isolationist foreign policy, exploding the debt and deficit and growing the size of government, not to mention Trump’s bastardization and squandering of an evangelical base Pence was much more aligned with, Pence had to shift or dump completely positions that were fundamental to his version of conservatism.
And he obligingly did all of that only so that four years later Trump supporters would call for his death by hanging, and Trump himself would call him a “p*ssy” and a “wimp.”
And now, as he looks ahead to 2024, Pence has nothing good to show for those four years of service to anyone who matters. His loyalty to Trump was washed away by MAGA with one decision not to overturn the 2020 election. And his subsequent praise for Trump won’t help him win back any conservatives or moderates who want to move past him.
It isn’t the first time Pence missed his moment. When first elected to Congress in 2000, the budget hawk was eager to cut spending and shrink government. But he had missed the Republican Revolution — George W. Bush and House Republicans went on to spend trillions on bank bailouts and new entitlement programs.
“I was like the frozen man,” Pence said of his timing. “Frozen before the revolution; thawed after it was over. A minuteman who showed up 10 years too late.”
Well, he’s 10 years too late again. The Mike Pence of 2014 has no chance of winning in 2024.
It makes his decision to run all the more flummoxing. And it certainly makes you wonder what could have been.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN. Her column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.