Why Mike Pence Is Starting His Presidential Campaign From A Disadvantage


Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux: Former Vice President Mike Pence just announced that he’s running for president. He served under former President Donald Trump from 2017 to 2021, but now he faces the prospect of running against his old boss in the 2024 Republican primary. I spoke to FiveThirtyEight senior elections analyst Geoffrey Skelley to find out more about Pence and whether or not he actually has a shot at winning the GOP nomination.

OK Geoffrey, as a former vice president, what do we make of Pence’s candidacy in the 2024 race?

Geoffrey Skelley: Yeah, so traditionally, the vice presidency has been a really good pathway to becoming president, or at the very least your party’s presidential nominee. Since World War II, eight vice presidents prior to Pence have sought their party’s nomination. Of those, six won the nomination at some point and three became president. We obviously have a very recent example in President Biden.

But the fact is, Pence enters the 2024 race in arguably a weaker position than any modern vice president who has sought the presidency. In FiveThirtyEight’s national polling average, Pence is sitting at around 5 percent, far behind Trump, who is at nearly 55 percent, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is at around 20 percent.

Among modern vice presidents, only Dan Quayle’s failed 2000 campaign was in Pence’s territory, and Quayle ended up dropping out in September of 1999. Most other vice presidents have been more competitive at this early point, if not clearly ahead: Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush, Al Gore and Biden all led their respective primary fields five or so months into the year before the primary, and all went on to become their party’s nominee.

Thomson-DeVeaux: Why is Pence in such a weak position compared with other vice presidents who ran for the White House, except for Dan Quayle, I guess?

Skelley: So Pence’s difficulties largely stem from the unusual prospect of running against Trump and Pence’s reduced political standing among Republicans since he refused to aid Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

You know, it hasn’t helped Pence that Trump has continued to blame him for his 2020 defeat, even as Pence has argued that Trump was “wrong” about Pence’s ability to overturn the 2020 result. Problematically, Pence finds himself in the minority among Republicans when it comes to views about the election’s outcome: In March, more than 60 percent of Republicans told an SSRS/CNN poll that Biden had not legitimately won the votes to become president, in line with what most surveys have found since the 2020 contest.

As of June 1, Pence’s favorability rating among Republicans was in the low 50s, while his unfavorables were in the low- to mid-30s. So while Pence is well-known and not necessarily disliked by Republicans, his ratings among them are a far cry from those of Trump or DeSantis, who enjoy favorability ratings of 70 percent or better.

Thomson-DeVeaux: This sounds like a bleak outlook for Pence. Does he have any hope of making a comeback after he jumps into the race?

Skelley: Well, we do know that it’s possible for a candidate to change their image: Back in the early months of the 2016 campaign, for example, Trump himself quickly went from being rather unpopular among Republicans to somewhat popular once the GOP base got to know him more as a candidate and not just as a celebrity.

But Pence is running in a Republican Party that is very clearly Trump’s party, no matter if the former president ends up winning the GOP nomination in 2024. It’s impossible to know, but considering his obstacles, Pence may be running not so much to win his party’s nomination but to influence the GOP to move toward a more traditionally conservative path.

All in all, Pence’s choice to not interfere in certifying the results of a free and fair election has made it unlikely that he’ll win the 2024 Republican nomination. The more pressing question might be, will he even make it to the Iowa caucuses in January?

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