For cripes sake, no one should primary Trump -- except one person

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

My new hot take is that the “rivalry” between Trump and Mike Pence is an elaborate kabuki being quietly orchestrated by the two of them to create a pretext for Pence to run in 2024. It’s the explanation that makes the most sense. Pence is still a hyper-loyal Trumper; he’s just working undercover at the moment.


What’s the alternative? That Mike Pence, the villain of the “stop the steal” campaign according to MAGA, sincerely believes he can defeat Donald Trump in a modern Republican primary? C’mon.

There’s only one Republican who stands a chance of beating Trump, and it’s not Pence.

Trump needs a crowded field in 2024 to dilute Ron DeSantis’s vote. Pence is prepared to answer that call, it seems, as a WaPo story published this afternoon claims he’s now “likely” to run for president. He’ll end up as a stalking horse for Trump against DeSantis, whether he realizes it or not.

Imagine: By 2025, Mike Pence’s legacy will have gone from preventing a second Trump term on January 6 to enabling a second Trump term by snatching votes from the one Republican pol who plausibly might have beaten him.

A six-term congressman and former governor of Indiana, Pence spent nearly five years as Trump’s obsequious sidekick — a quiet badge of conservative credibility next to the volatile political newcomer, always ready with a display of fealty or a look of solemn assent. But in the 18 months since the two men split, Pence has flipped a switch, returning to the path he was on before he began praising Trump in their private chats on the golf course. Pence wants everyone to know that he is once again his own man — and his team is looking to reintroduce him ahead of a possible 2024 presidential bid.

Advisers and allies say they think Pence is likely to run, and insist he will not base his decision on whether Trump chooses to run again…

“It’s introducing people to who Mike Pence always was,” said Marc Short, Pence’s top adviser. “If he were to run, he may not be the biggest celebrity. But if we’re going to go back to a principled conservative who represents the things we stand for, then there’s no one better than Mike.”


What on earth leads Marc Short to believe there might be a meaningful constituency in this party for principled conservatism? What’s happened over the past seven years to given him even a faint impression that that’s true? “Pence’s theory of the case works better if you’re writing a term paper than actually running for president with the president you served waiting angrily in the wings,” one Trump ally told WaPo.

I’m trying to make sense of a Pence run strategically and will offer you two possibilities. One: He’s actually angling to be a stalking horse for DeSantis, prepared to use his time onstage at the debates to make the case against Trump. Maybe Pence has had his own Cheney-esque epiphany privately and believes someone with real Republican cred needs to warn the public in 2024 that the former guy isn’t fit to serve. Based on what WaPo’s hearing, though, it doesn’t appear that way. He *will* attack Trump, his advisors tell the party, but seemingly not for anything having to do with fitness: “A 2024 Pence campaign would likely make the point that Trump is the only person who lost to Biden, one aide said, and Pence could point out that he disagreed with the First Step Act, Trump’s criminal justice reform bill.”

I’m trying to picture Pence standing next to Trump on a debate stage, being asked what his biggest criticism is of a man whose irresponsibility almost led to him being murdered in the Capitol, and responding, “His criminal justice reform bill.”


He’s not going to be a stalking horse for DeSantis. This guy didn’t compromise his values to the degree that he did by running with Trump just to help someone else get elected president. He wants the big prize for himself.

Second possibility, then: Pence thinks he could prevail as a “safe” compromise pick if Trump and DeSantis wage nuclear war on each other. If, say, 65 percent of the party ends up dividing between the two populists, Pence could conceivably vacuum up the remaining third and win narrowly in the early states, building momentum. Maybe some Republican voters who are otherwise well disposed to both Trump and DeSantis would feel alienated by the slugfest between them and opt for the soft-spoken, gentlemanly Pence instead.

Yeah, I don’t buy it either. How does Pence get to 35 percent of the vote when there are likely to be other candidates in the race (Cotton, Cruz, Christie) splintering the “Anyone But Trump Or DeSantis” vote? And wouldn’t the Trump/DeSantis clash of the titans end up sucking in voters who might like Pence okay but will feel obliged to choose sides in the war between the populists for control of the GOP?

I don’t see a path here, especially if and when Trump starts to go to work on Pence, which he will if the veep looks stronger than expected in the polls. “Should Pence run and start to gain traction, they say, Trump is likely to try to tear him down, sniping that his former No. 2 doesn’t have what it takes to serve as commander in chief,” WaPo reported, citing Trump’s advisors. Trump is destined to also attack Pence for not overturning the election on January 6, which would itself wound the party ahead of the general election. The more Republican voters polarize between the two over the propriety of Pence’s actions that day, the harder it’ll be to unite behind either of them in November.


If Pence wants to do something useful for his party and his country, he should endorse DeSantis. And I say that as someone who’s no great fan of DeSantis, just a political realist.

I’ll leave you with this. Someone should remind the media that the bigger the GOP field gets, the better Trump’s chances at a second term become.

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