Although Mike Pence joined forces with Donald Trump and ran on a ticket with the former President in 2016 and 2020, he has broken with Trump privately and publicly in the past few years. Pence announced his campaign for President last Wednesday in Iowa and offered his strongest rebuke against Trump, saying he “should never” be President again. He focused primarily on Trump’s actions after the 2020 Presidential Election, and he claims that Trump pressured him to “choose between him and the Consitution.” While he focused on the January 6th attack on the US Capitol that caused him to abandon the former President’s side, he also stressed his conservative credentials and accomplishments during his time as vice president.
Pence entered politics in 1990, running a campaign for the US House against an incumbent Democratic congressman. The campaign was a disaster, and Pence especially faced backlash for using campaign funds to pay off his personal mortgage. After this loss, Pence regrouped and launched a successful conservative radio talk show, which propelled him into the US House in 2000. Pence won a surprisingly tight race to become Governor of Indiana in 2012 and was picked by Trump as his running mate in 2016 to shore up support with evangelical voters and the conservative establishment. He was regarded as a political force, boasting both a sizable amount of experience and a levelheaded reputation.
In 2024, Pence will heavily depend on the party’s traditionally conservative and devoutly religious right-wing base. Pence is a devout evangelical Christian, most notably refusing to eat alone with any woman other than his wife or attend events where alcohol is served without her. Despite these strengths, his path to the nomination is limited. While Pence comfortably polls in third out of the current Republican Primary field, he still trails Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Trump by a wide margin. To make matters even more difficult, he must defeat other candidates who share his “lane” to the nomination, such as Nikki Haley and fellow Evangelical Christian Tim Scott, before taking on DeSantis and Trump. Although Pence is polling well ahead of Scott at the time of publishing, prediction markets believe Scott has a greater chance of winning the 2024 nomination. While Pence has only won the endorsement of one congressman (his brother), Scott is supported by two important Senators: John Thune and Mike Rounds.
The Evangelical Right
Pence’s devout Christianity is central to his political identity and dominates his public image as a Presidential candidate. He has a tough task of winning over Evangelical voters from Trump, who is expected to perform very well with this demographic. Recently, he has begun to criticize the former President’s religiosity directly, suggesting he is not a “real” Christian. Given that Senator Tim Scott is also targeting his campaign toward faith-based Evangelical voters, Pence has some work to do to solidify The Evangelical Right as his dependable campaign base. Evangelical voters make up a disproportionate amount of the Iowa Republican electorate, so Pence will be able to perform well in the first GOP contest.
Pence is a dependable and experienced politician with a long track record as a Republican politician, solidly conservative, and has emerged as a vocal opponent of Trump and Trumpism. He is a conservative culture war advocate, just like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, but emphasizes traditional GOP family values rather than populist right issues.
While we outlined above how Pence is (in some ways) the original conservative culture war advocate, he is less of a populist warrior than Trump and DeSantis. Pence doesn’t make consistent headlines fighting against what the Populist Right has coined the “woke left,” but rather has built his socially conservative credentials with a long track record of conservative policy preferences. Pence has explicitly criticized “unprincipled populists” and clearly distinguished his foreign policy views from the Populist Right.
Mike Pence is a committed conservative and will likely perform best with voters who self-identify as “very conservative” rather than “conservative” or “moderate.” While Social Moderates may appreciate Pence’s criticism of Trump, they are more likely to support a candidate who is more secular or softer on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion.
Pence may have been Trump’s Vice President, but he does not have a good relationship with the former President or his supporters anymore. Given that many of Trump’s strongest supporters blame Pence for his role in failing to overturn the 2020 election results, he won’t be gaining any support from this group.
Decision Desk HQ is profiling each GOP presidential candidate and where their strengths and weaknesses are within the Republican primary coalition. You can read about the 5 Groups of GOP Voters here or see the previous profiles below: