Mike Pence is in quite the predicament. Well, several predicaments actually.
After all, his embryonic 2024 campaign is contending with his former ticket mate’s own revenge tour. Then there’s the fact that Donald Trump and his followers consider Pence a traitor to the cause. Yet that’s not what this article’s about, rather, I’m examining a whole different roadblock to Pence’s White House dreams.
No Vice President has ever lost their re-election bid and then successfully become President on their own. In fact, few one-term Vice Presidents have even attempted their own subsequent presidential run. Nevertheless we do have two recent examples, Walter Mondale and Dan Quayle, which show just how difficult a feat this will be for Pence. I decided to take a deep dive into these candidacies to gain some background into the challenges ahead for the Pence 2024 effort.
Walter Mondale – 1984
Mondale was the rare transformational Vice President, changing the office from an inconspicuous ignominy to a vital component of a President’s Administration. Compared to making the Vice Presidency meaningful, the road to 270 must’ve looked like a cakewalk to him.
The Minnesotan’s first advantage was that his President, Jimmy Carter, quickly removed himself from the political arena. Just a week after his defeat Carter announced his retirement, and by mid-1982 the former President was formally endorsing his Veep. One problem, though, was that Mondale resisted the need to distance himself from his unpopular old boss.
By the end of 1982 Mondale caught a major break when Ted Kennedy, who was leading early surveys of the potential field, revealed that he would not run for the 1984 nomination. This ensured that Mondale would be the front-runner and he shot up to the top of the early Gallup polls.
As 1983 proceeded, however, Ohio Senator and former Astronaut John Glenn began to challenge Mondale’s supremacy. In response, Mondale secured several key endorsements and out-fundraised Glenn, who soon saw his own bubble burst. By the end of the year, the New York Times was praising Mondale for his ability to dominate the primary field. Left unsaid was the fact that over the summer Reagan captured the lead in head-to-head match-ups with Mondale.
In the run-up to the New Hampshire primary, Mondale appeared to be invincible. The ex-VP had won the Iowa Caucuses and seemed to be on the verge of running the table. Instead, Gary Hart shocked the political world and won the Granite State. Almost immediately, the Mondale campaign realized they were facing a bruising battle through the entire primary calendar. Despite getting to compete in all those primary contests, Mondale was never able to attract the Reagan Democrats the party had lost in 1980. To top it all off, thanks to a disappointing finish in California, Mondale was forced to appeal to the newly created superdelegates to officially win the nomination.
The general election, of course, was a painful disappointment for Mondale. He started way behind and finished way behind. Not even a victory in the first debate could give Mondale the boost he needed. Ultimately a narrow win in his home state of Minnesota saved Mondale from the infamy of losing all 50 states.
Dan Quayle – 1996 and 2000
A considerable amount of Dan Quayle’s Vice Presidency was spent imagining him in the top job. Magazine cover stories and Bob Woodward books were devoted to the subject. So this begs the question of why it all seemed to stop the moment the 1992 campaign was over.
One major issue was the perception that Quayle was not qualified for the presidency, an impression that hung over him right from the start. In December 1992, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found Quayle in fourth place among potential 1996 GOP nominees with just 12% (Jack Kemp, Bob Dole and James Baker held the top three spots).
Nevertheless, Quayle had a constituency in the socially conservative, evangelical wing of the party. Thanks to his book tour and the upcoming midterms, he had numerous opportunities throughout 1994 to appeal to these voters. Nevertheless, an Iowa straw poll in June of 1994 found Quayle struggling in sixth place.
Quayle continued to soldier on into early 1995, even as an appendectomy and a cancer scare meant he was constantly in and out of the hospital at this time. To dismiss any concerns about his health, Quayle’s team outlined an ambitious plan to tour the country ahead of an official announcement in the spring. “I stand before you tonight scanned, rested and ready,” he joked.
Shortly afterward, though, Quayle pulled the plug on his campaign. While it was unclear what impact his health problems had, his team lamented a lack of support from major party leaders and fundraisers. Another factor may’ve been the advice of his former Chief of Staff Bill Kristol, who urged him to instead run for Governor of Indiana in 1996 to rehab his image ahead of a presidential try in 2000.
While Quayle kept his options open for 2000, by 1997 a new successor for George H.W. Bush was capturing the limelight. Texas Gov. George W. Bush stole the show at the dedication of his father’s presidential library and dominated the early straw polls. By the time of the 1999 Ames Iowa Straw Poll, Quayle came in an embarrassing eighth.
In both of the aforementioned cases, and in Pence’s as well, not even high name recognition could yield an early polling lead for the ex-VP. None of them could shake the impressions they made while in office, or overcome the stigma of being on a losing ticket.
One other striking similarity between Mondale, Quayle and Pence is that they were all followers in a political movement, rather than the leaders of one. For instance, Mondale copied the style of his mentor Hubert Humphrey, while Dan Quayle and Mike Pence were both disciples of the Ronald Reagan school of politics.
Without the unique skill-set of a pioneer, or the sterling winning record of a favorite, one-term Vice Presidents just don’t seem to have what it takes to stand out from the crowd.