I’m old enough to remember when people thought the GOP had a strong field lined up for the next cycle, with no need for dark horses. Which is to say, I’m more than six months old.
Pence is also quietly cultivating influential Washington figures such as Bill Kristol and Gary Bauer, while becoming one of the loudest voices attacking Common Core, a set of education benchmarks that has sparked a revolt among tea party activists.
The moves all bear the hallmarks of a potential run for president in 2016 — and some Republican leaders have begun talking up Pence as an under-the-radar standard-bearer who could return the GOP to the White House, according to interviews with more than two dozen prominent Republicans. They say the talk-radio-host-turned-congressman-turned-governor has the capacity to electrify grass-roots voters while uniting the constituencies that make up today’s deeply divided Republican Party.
“Pence could bridge really every group — the social conservatives, the fiscal conservatives, the foreign policy conservatives,” said Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth and a friend of Pence’s. “He’s not viewed as a fringe guy.”…
“In the last few months, people have reached out,” Pence said. “I’m listening.”
Actually, the money quote from the article isn’t in that excerpt. It’s this one, from Pence himself: “I am someone who doesn’t believe there is something wrong with the Republican agenda.” That’s an … interesting message to run on as the potential nominee of a party that’s been shellacked two elections in a row and, with great fanfare, engaged in a formal rebranding after the 2012 campaign. The most dynamic Republican pols of the last year are all about changing the party’s agenda. Most obviously, Rand Paul’s been pushing NSA reform and sentencing reforms; less conspicuously, Mike Lee’s proposed several pro-family economic measures. Virtually everyone in the prospective presidential field supports some form of immigration reform. It’d be supremely ironic if, after the rise of the tea party and people like Paul and Lee tugging the GOP in many different new directions, we ended up with a nominee who’s running explicitly on the idea of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
If you missed it last month, here’s my earlier post on Pence’s candidacy. The smartest critique of him in the WaPo story comes from Grover Norquist, who wonders what Pence’s “big thing” is. Scott Walker’s “big thing” is beating the unions in Wisconsin; if Pence ends up competing with him to be the “compromise candidate,” who’s respected by both the establishment and the grassroots, what has he accomplished to warrant picking him over Walker? (The same can be said for Rubio and Jindal, both of whom may also end up jockeying for the “compromise candidate” slot.) Pence has gotten out in front of opposing Common Core, but people who follow that issue closely like the boss emeritus think his opposition is mostly cosmetic. Maybe Pence’s “big thing” is simply the fact that he’s an exceptionally safe choice, almost to the point of blandness. Everyone else in the field has liabilities that will annoy some Republicans; even Walker, I think, might run into trouble on immigration. But Pence is, famously, a “full-spectrum conservative.” The fact that he’s saying outright that he thinks there’s nothing wrong with the GOP’s agenda might be reassuring to undecided voters faced with hard choices in the primaries between hawks and doves, social moderates and social conservatives, and so forth. I think McCain got nominated in 2008 because GOP voters ultimately decided he was the safest choice; Romney was also the safest in 2012. Maybe all he has to do is jump in, keep his head down while the rest of the field nukes each other, and then accept the nomination when voters decide it’s all too much and they should just stick with the inoffensive conservative guy from the midwest.