Though Pence says he won’t decide on whether or not to run for president until next year, conservative leaders I spoke to were equally as bullish on Pence.
Chris Chocola, president of the powerful fiscally conservative Club for Growth tells me Pence may benefit from being less well known, and less of a lighting rod than Palin. He also notes that “[Pence’s] conservative credentials are really unquestionable.”
“[Pence] appeals to every group that Palin appeals to — and probably a little more,” says Chocola.
“Pence is Palin with gravitas. Pence is Palin with experience,” adds Brent Bozell, chairman of For America.
Regarding experience, FreedomWorks Chairman Dick Armey says of Pence: “He’s been a rock solid fiscal conservative, showing up not only for the high profile TARP and ObamaCare battles, but also championing issues that are maybe less glamorous politically, but are critically important for our country, such as fundamental tax reform, specifically the flat tax.”
I’ve written about this a bit before. The guy who’s usually mentioned as the threat to Palin is Huckabee, of course, because they’d compete for social conservatives. But establishment Republicans dislike Huck almost as much as they do Sarahcuda, as he’s ever eager to remind us. So imagine for a moment that you’re Karl Rove, nervously weighing the possibility that one of those two will be the nominee. You can try to head them off by pushing Romney or Daniels or Thune, but then you run the risk of a pure “centrists vs. the base” primary — and because the base tends to be more motivated to turn out, they’d have the upper hand. The alternative is to try to coopt part of the base by backing a compromise candidate instead, someone who might be more fiscally and/or socially conservative than the establishment would prefer but who would peel off base voters from Huck and Palin and would stand a better chance of appealing to centrists against Obama. That’s Pence. He’s got 10 years of legislative experience, he’s deeply respected by fiscal cons and social cons, he gives a good speech, and he’s less ostentatious about “values” than Huckabee is so he runs a smaller risk of alienating moderates in the general election.
What he doesn’t have is name recognition, and he’ll need to catch up on that in a hurry to have a serious chance against Palin and/or Huck. Which makes me wonder if, in the next few months, we aren’t about to see a serious public pro-Pence push among people like Rove and other GOP chieftains. I’ve been assuming that we’d see that on Daniels’s behalf, but between his gaffes about calling a truce on social issues and the calculus I described above about needing base voters to win, maybe Beltway types will give up on him as a lost cause and back Pence, the other Hoosier, instead. The big question is whether he’s willing to run for president now or if, as rumored, he’s thinking of running for governor first with an eye to 2016. He’d be a formidable candidate then too, especially with some executive experience under his belt: None of the obvious contenders — Christie, Rubio, Jindal — are especially closely identified with social conservatism, so Pence could clean up. Still, that’s a tougher field than 2012 would be, so maybe GOP insiders could persuade him to go for the big prize now by promising to back him. Honestly wouldn’t surprise me. Exit question: Would it work?
Update: A commenter reminds me that Palin said she won’t run if another satisfactorily conservative candidate steps up. Well, by virtually any measure, Pence would qualify as satisfactory. Is that reason enough for the establishment to try to push him into the race — to call Palin’s bluff on that promise?