Someday, history may hold Mike Pence in high regard for his time in the lion's den. Pence faithfully executed the law of the U.S. on Jan. 6, 2021, despite directives to the contrary from his boss Donald Trump to help nullify Joe Biden's election.
But whether the Republican Party will respect Pence enough to seriously consider him in this 2024 primary is another story. Being treacherously branded a turncoat by Trump fuels a toxic hatred among the 45th president’s flock. Polls show this, with Pence in single digits.
Against harsh odds, Pence could be running for president just to learn his destiny. That means testing how durably he has been defamed. "I believe in the American people, and I have faith God is not done with America yet. Together, we can bring this country back,” the Indiana Republican said Wednesday in announcing his candidacy.
For the occasion, Pence evoked the optimism of Ronald Reagan, who in 1980 managed to unseat a Democratic incumbent, Jimmy Carter, proclaiming: “Let's make America great again." That was decades before Trump appropriated the message.
At his campaign launch in Iowa, Pence said: “Anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States. And anyone who asks someone else to put them over the Constitution should never be president again."
Ordinarily, former vice presidents seek to move up only after their patrons’ ambitions have run their course — and with the presumed backing of party regulars. In this case, however, Pence confronts his ex-boss, a striking anomaly.
Pence, who reached the White House in tandem with Trump in 2016, was sent packing the same way four years later. It's fair to ask: Did the VP not suspect — before the dark day that a Trump mob howled for his head — that Trump was bent on disregarding the limits and powers of the law?
Pence fulfilled his ceremonial duties in certifying the Jan. 6 certification vote despite violent duress. But all that came at the end of Trump-Pence's chaotic term, when it would prove too late to nullify the voters' verdict with blatant lies.
Can Pence explain to Republicans across America his phased-in conversion from Trump factotum to Trump critic? That's the rhetorical trick, whether or not Pence mentions the ex-president's name. In addition, Pence seems to be betting that Trump’s front-runner status will shrivel in the light of one criminal case and several pending investigations.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, in his own announcement Tuesday, has his own rationale to explain.
Upon dropping out of the 2016 primary, Christie fell in line behind Trump despite the new party demigod’s personal insults. Now Christie sings a new tune while Trump keeps up the juvenile tack of calling him fat and crazy.
Christie slammed the former president as a “self-consumed, self-serving mirror hog” who can’t take responsibility for his actions. Late in the hour as it may be for such a warning to the people, Christie says he's motivated, and that taking out Trump is the only way for any GOP rival to win.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Bergum declared, too, saying: "In a country built on neighbors helping neighbors, we’ve become a country of neighbors fighting neighbors." That also sounds like a never-Trump message.
All three latest challengers count on ordinary Republicans pulling their party back from Trump’s divisive seven-year grip and facing the Democrats with an intelligible message on governance. Only an optimist would find that easy to envision.
Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.