Mike Pence, it seems, is going to run for president in 2024.
Asked Wednesday during an event at Georgetown University whether he would vote for Donald Trump if the former President ran for the White House again, Pence responded not-so-subtly: “Well, there might be somebody else I’d prefer more.”
He should have added: Me, I am talking about me.
But more interesting than that – since it’s been clear for a while now that the former vice president wants to run for the top job – was how Pence signaled he might actually run against Trump.
Here that is – from a speech Pence gave at the Heritage Foundation earlier Wednesday:
“Our movement cannot forsake the foundational commitment that we have to security, to limited government, to liberty and to life. But nor can we allow our movement to be led astray by the siren song of unprincipled populism that’s unmoored from our oldest traditions and most cherished values.”
Now, he doesn’t mention Trump by name there, but the former President is all over what Pence is saying.
Consider the phrase “the siren song of unprincipled populism that’s unmoored from our oldest traditions and most cherished values,” in light of Trump’s behavior during and after the 2020 election.
What Trump did was insist that because he didn’t believe he could lose – and because he could convince so many voters from the base of the GOP of that – he must be in the right. And that everything that flowed from there – the spurious lawsuits, the falsehoods of alleged fraud and, yes, even what happened on January 6, 2021 – were all justified in his mind.
Remember that on that dark day, in a phone call with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Trump distilled down his reckless populism into a single sentence: “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
That is populism without principle. It is affirming that whatever the mob thinks must inherently be right (even if you’ve stoked the mob for months with lies about the election.)
And that is where Pence and Trump broke most clearly. Pence resisted the pressure campaign by Trump and others in his orbit to refuse to accept the electoral vote count on January 6 because there was not a role laid out in the Constitution for him to do so. Trump had no such principle – driven only by a desire to win, at any cost.
Will a presidential campaign built around the idea that Trump represents a dangerous strain of populism work in today’s Republican Party? Count me skeptical – as Trump has proven over the 2022 midterm primary season that he still retains command of the party’s base, who seems willing to follow wherever Trump leads.