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Why does Mike Pompeo think he can win the presidency?

AP Photo/John Raoux

It’s been rumored for years that he wants to run and today he took his clearest step yet towards doing so, launching a PAC that’s going to take him around the country to campaign for Republicans in the midterms. Other future nominees like Nixon and Romney have followed that strategy, using their midterm tour to build goodwill, make friends with influential local pols, and build connections to wealthy fundraisers. He’s going to run in 2024 if Trump doesn’t.

Just tell me how he wins.

Seriously. Give me a play-by-play of what would have to happen in the Republican Party and American politics at large to take him from the launch of CavPAC today to the 2024 nomination.

Pompeo acknowledged the implications of his new PAC and did not downplay his interest in mounting a 2024 presidential campaign. But he said that for the next 18 months, CAVPAC would be completely focused on 2022…

He has made … 30 stops to headline fundraisers and speak to conservative groups and conferences since Feb. 27, with at least eight more stops planned through July 26. His trips include:

Keynoting the Lincoln Day Dinner in Miami
Traveling to Dallas for a gathering of religious broadcasters
Addressing the Republican National Committee summer donor retreat
Headlining a fundraiser for California Rep. Mike Garcia
Traveling to Des Moines, Iowa, for the FAMiLY Leadership Summit
Headlining a fundraiser for Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft
Speaking to the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Tampa, Florida
Traveling to Southern California for a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute

He’s shaken a lot of hands lately but he’s also been careful to stress that he’s laser-focused on the midterms: “This isn’t about my 2024 race, not remotely. This is about doing all — laying all the groundwork necessary to be successful in November of next year.” That way, he avoids stepping on some very big orange toes down at Mar-a-Lago. His former boss might not like the idea of Pompeo trying to get a jump on the 2024 race when Trump himself hasn’t made his intentions clear yet.

Here’s the CavPAC website, which looks a lot like a campaign site. Pompeo’s doing a media tour to promote it, sitting for interviews with Hugh Hewitt and the Examiner, among others, and publishing an op-ed on Fox News’s website about how Biden should try to pressure Putin at tomorrow’s summit. He’ll obviously be a candidate for president if you-know-who decides to pass on the next election after all.

So, let’s do the play-by-play. Trump rocks the political world in late 2023 by announcing that he won’t run for president, whereupon Pompeo immediately declares his candidacy. And so does Ron DeSantis. And Mike Pence. And Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton. And Nikki Haley. And Marco Rubio. And the two Scotts, Tim and Rick. Ben Sasse too. Also Kristi Noem. And maybe Trump Jr. and Tucker Carlson. Possibly Matt Gaetz. We’re looking at a dozen candidates easy in the field, nearly all of whom will be more comfortable throwing rhetorical bombs at the base’s enemies on Fox News. What does Pompeo do to stand out in that crowd?

In an earlier era, the answer would be simple: His resume. His credentials are sterling. He’s a veteran, a West Point and Harvard Law grad, a former member of Congress, and a previous holder of the two biggest jobs in foreign policy at State and the CIA. Importantly, he also enjoys an impeccable record as a Trump loyalist, having served in the administration from start to finish and never having spoiled his record the way Pence did by defying Trump on January 6. In an old-school GOP that cared about governing experience, Pompeo would have a leg up on the rest of the field. And, at least on paper, his service to Trump makes him a strong contender for Trump’s endorsement.

But this isn’t the old-school GOP. Pompeo lacks the quality that the Republican primary electorate seems to value most in a nominee, pugnacious lib-owning rhetorical charisma. He’s the anti-Gaetz in that regard. Righties don’t want a well-credentialed bureaucrat as nominee, they want a culture-war guru. And Trump knows that, which is why it’s hard to imagine him gambling on Pompeo with an endorsement despite his years of loyalty. If Trump has to bequeath the MAGA brand to someone, is he going to gamble on a low-key diplomat like Pompeo or a rabblerouser like DeSantis who’s already built a populist fan base? Which of the two of them says “high energy”?

Even if Pompeo survived past Iowa and was one of the three or four candidates left standing, there’s no scenario in which he’s the populist choice. Surely DeSantis or one of the Senate MAGA disciples would still be around at that point to start consolidating Trump voters. Which makes me think that Pompeo’s not actually running for president, he’s running for vice president. That’s his only plausible path to the White House down the road: Expect to lose in the primaries in 2024 but end up as a VP shortlister by dint of his CV. Any number of potential nominees would consider him as a running mate because of his experience and the Trump cred he’d bring the ticket. And even if he doesn’t get the nod, remaining a player in Republican politics might bring him back into the next cabinet, possibly as defense secretary.

Exit question: Why didn’t Pompeo run for Senate last year in his home state of Kansas, which McConnell was desperate to see him do? That would have made him a GOP player all the way to 2024 without needing to launch any Super PACs.