As Republican candidates enter the race for their party’s 2024 presidential nomination, Times columnists, Opinion writers and others will assess their strengths and weaknesses with a scorecard. We rate the candidates on a scale of 1 to 10: 1 means the candidate will probably drop out before any caucus or primary voting; 10 means the candidate has a very strong chance of receiving the party’s nomination next summer. This entry assesses Mike Pence, the former vice president.
Candidate strength averages
How seriously should we take Mike Pence’s candidacy?
Frank Bruni At least a bit more seriously than the fly that colonized his coiffure during his 2020 debate with Kamala Harris did. He is polling well enough to be part of the Republican primary debates. Let’s hope that Chris Licht at CNN has an entomologist at the ready for the post-debate panel.
Jane Coaston Not very.
Michelle Cottle As seriously as the wet dishrag he impersonated for most of his term as V.P.
Ross Douthat On paper, a former vice president known for his evangelical faith sounds like a plausible Republican candidate for president. But in practice, because of Pence’s role on Jan. 6 and his break with Donald Trump thereafter, to vote for Trump’s vice president is to actively repudiate Trump himself. So until there’s evidence the G.O.P. voters are ready for such an overt repudiation (as opposed to just moving on to another candidate), there isn’t good reason to take Pence’s chances seriously.
David French Nothing signals G.O.P. loyalty to Trump more than G.O.P. anger at Mike Pence. And what sin has he committed in Republican eyes? After years of faithful service to Trump, he refused to violate the law and risk the unity of the Republic by wrongly overturning an American election. We can’t take Pence seriously until Republicans stop taking Trump seriously.
Michelle Goldberg One clue to Mike Pence’s standing among Republican base voters is that many of them have made heroes out of a mob chanting “hang Mike Pence.”
Nicole Hemmer On the one hand, he’s the former vice president, which has to count for something. On the other hand, a mob whipped up by the former president wanted to hang him in front of Congress, so his candidacy is a high-risk proposition.
Katherine Mangu-Ward Mike Pence is a serious person. He is seriously not going to be president.
Daniel McCarthy As things stand, his candidacy isn’t very serious. If calamity befalls Donald Trump, however, the former vice president could gain favor as the G.O.P. old guard’s alternative to Ron DeSantis.
What matters most about him as a presidential candidate?
Bruni He was Trump’s No. 2, so the fact of his candidacy is a rebuke of Trump’s presidency. He has a warm history with evangelical voters, whom he will assiduously court. And if squaring off against Trump somehow prods Pence to be more candid about what he saw at the fair, his words could theoretically wound.
Coaston It is a candidacy no one wants.
Cottle He’s a uniter: Everyone dislikes him.
Douthat As long as he’s polling in the single digits, he matters only as a condensed symbol of the Republican electorate’s resilient loyalty to Trump. What could matter, come the debates, is that he’s the Republican with the strongest incentive to attack his former boss on character and fitness rather than just on issues — because his history with Trump sets him apart from the other non-Trump candidates, and his only possible path to the nomination involves persuading primary voters that he was right on Jan. 6 and Trump was wrong. If he sees it this way, his clashes with Trump could be interesting theater, and they might even help someone beat the former president; that someone, however, is still unlikely to be Pence himself.
French Pence’s stand on Jan. 6 is defining him. In a healthy party, his integrity at that moment would be an asset. In the modern G.O.P., it’s a crippling liability.
Goldberg It’s notable that Trump’s former vice president, the man chosen, in part, to reassure the Christian right, is now running against him. If Pence were willing to call out the treachery and mayhem he saw up close, it would be a useful intervention into our politics. But so far, he still seems cowed by his former boss.
Hemmer In a rational world, he’d be a plausible candidate because of his strong connection to white evangelicals and time as V.P. But in this world, he’s the scapegoat for Trump’s failed effort to overthrow the 2020 election.
Mangu-Ward Pence is an old-school Republican. The likely failure of his campaign will demonstrate how dead that version of the party really is. There was lots to hate about that party — including the punitive social conservatism demonstrated in his positions on abortion and gay rights — but I will confess to some nostalgia for the rhetoric of limited government and fiscal conservatism that still sometimes crosses Pence’s lips, seemingly in earnest.
McCarthy His experience and calm demeanor give him a gravitas most rivals lack. He puts Governor DeSantis at risk of seeming too young to be president, even as the 44-year-old governor suggests Trump is too old.
What do you find most inspiring — or unsettling — about his vision for America?
Bruni I’m unsettled by how strongly Pence has always let his deeply conservative version of Christianity inform his policy positions. I respect people of faith, very much, but in a country with no official church and enormous diversity, he makes inadequate distinction between personal theology and public governance.
Coaston He might be the most uninspiring candidate currently running.
Cottle He wants to ram his conservative religious views down the nation’s throat.
Douthat To the extent that Pence has a distinctive vision, it overlaps with both Nikki Haley’s and Tim Scott’s, albeit with a bit more piety worked in. Like them, he’s selling an upbeat Reaganism that seems out of step with both the concerns of G.O.P. voters and the challenges of the moment. The fact that Pence wants to revive George W. Bush’s push for private Social Security accounts is neither inspiring nor unsettling; it’s just quixotic, which so far feels like the spirit of his entire presidential run.
French It’s plain that Pence wants to turn from Trumpism in both tone and in key elements of substance. He’s far more of a Reagan conservative than Trump ever was. Yet his accommodations to Trump remain unsettling even after Jan. 6. One can appreciate his stand for the Constitution while also recognizing that it’s a bit like applauding an arsonist for putting out a fire he helped start.
Goldberg Pence would like to impose his religious absolutism on the entire country. As he said last year, after Roe v. Wade was overturned, “We must not rest and must not relent until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land.”
Hemmer Pence doesn’t stir up culture wars to win elections — he earnestly believes in a strictly patriarchal, overtly Christian version of the United States. (He was bashing Disney for suggesting women could serve in combat back when DeSantis was still in college.)
Mangu-Ward Pence’s vision for America includes the peaceful transfer of power. He was willing to say these words: “President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election.” This shouldn’t be inspiring; it should be the bare minimum for a viable political career. But here we are.
McCarthy What’s unsettling about Pence’s vision is how similar it is to George W. Bush’s. It’s a vision that substitutes moralism for realism in foreign policy and is too deferential to the Chamber of Commerce at home — to the detriment of religious liberty as well as working-class families.
Imagine you’re a G.O.P. operative or campaign manager. What’s your elevator pitch for a Pence candidacy?
Bruni He was loyal to Trump until that would have been disloyal to democracy. No porn stars or hush money here. He has presidential hair. Even flies think so.
Coaston The former governor of Indiana has some thoughts he’d like to share.
Cottle He has high name recognition — and great hair.
Douthat There are lots of Republicans who claimed they liked Trump’s conservative policies but didn’t like all the feuds, tweets and drama. Well, a vote for Pence is a vote for his administration’s second term, but this time drama-free.
French G.O.P. voters, if you’re proud of the Trump administration’s accomplishments yet tired of Trump’s drama, Pence is your man.
Goldberg Honestly, it’s not easy to come up with one, but I guess he’s qualified and he looks the part.
Hemmer No one is better prepared to face down the woke mob than the candidate who survived an actual mob two years ago.
Mangu-Ward Mike Pence: If he loses, he’ll admit that he lost!
McCarthy Mike Pence means no drama and no disruption — a return to business as usual. Doesn’t that sound good right now?
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