Who does Michael Pence think he is, exactly? The vice president and former governor of Indiana is many things: a loving husband and father, a classic specimen of Hoosier manners. But our next president? Not unless his running mate is Tom Brady.
Pence is almost uniquely unqualified to succeed Donald Trump (or a Democrat, though this possibility still seems to me remote) in 2025. The man is a fossil of the conservative movement as it existed before Trump, in what might as well be the Pleistocene era. Has he ever given anyone the impression, from before he accepted the vice presidential nomination in 2016 until the present, of being committed to a single one of the issues over which Trump broke? He is a lifelong free trader who supported the Iraq War when he was in Congress. To continue the evolutionary metaphor, Pence’s following Trump would be like if the the creature after the Neanderthal in those old “March of Progress” illustrations became a gibbering monkey again. Pence belongs to the Republican Party’s past, not its future.
This is exactly why Trump chose Pence to be his vice president. He is a throwback, and a useful one. Pence can shake down reluctant old-guard GOP donors. He can be a liaison between the White House and right-wing think tanks and pressure groups whose members Trump has no interest in flattering. He can talk shop with social conservatives about judges and the courts and other issues that no doubt bore the president to tears. But eight years of helping Trump navigate the boring stuff won’t make him any more attractive to the voters who gave up on his brand of politics long ago — or never had any use for it in the first place.
And that’s to say nothing of style. It is almost impossible to imagine Pence firing up a crowd the way Trump does. I have been to a Pence campaign rally. The experience is roughly comparable to an Eagle Scout graduation ceremony, except that afterward nobody got cookies or lemonade or homemade apple pie. It’s not even clear to me that hardcore red-state Republicans are interested in the aww-shucks-lower-taxes-entrepreneurship pitch that lost the party two successive presidential elections in 2008 and 2012. A generic conservative is not going to win Michigan or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania. What Pence has to sell is something that nobody’s buying — and he’s not particularly good at selling it anyway.
Apparently none of this has ever registered with the vice president, who is already looking ahead to what he thinks will be his own campaign in 2024. A report in Politico recently detailed Pence’s successful shuttering of one of Trump’s judicial nominees. It seems to be the case that Pence’s primary motivation in shutting down the nomination of Tom Fisher, the solicitor general of Indiana, to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals was his fear that the confirmation process would drudge up stories from Pence’s time as governor of Indiana — like the time he tried to ban Syrian refugees from settling in the state and got ripped to pieces by Judge Richard Posner. The idea is that bad press from 2016 getting revived in 2019 will hurt his chances in five years.
This is lunacy, and not just because Pence’s chances of being elected president are vanishingly slim no matter what. Does he really not think that any and all negative stories about his record both in the White House and before are going to be turned up and scrutinized and shared the world round if he does run for the White House himself? Why is he thinking this far ahead? For Pence’s sake, I seriously hope that Politico has misread the situation here and that he ended Fisher’s nomination to settle some ancient score that the rest of us know nothing about — real greaseball stuff, strictly among the Hoosiers.
The only other possible explanation is that Pence is even more delusional and self-absorbed than his boss.