It wasn’t enough. For months, virtually no pollster or political prognosticator saw his campaign gaining traction in a Republican Party that valued identity over ideology and presentation over pedigree. Pence was a member of the conservative movement for nearly two generations, serving in Congress for six terms and a term as governor of Indiana, until Trump snatched him from a tough re-election bid to become his running mate. the vice-presidency.
But Trump — and Trumpism — would ultimately be Pence’s undoing, a Shakespearean turning point for a politician who embraced the former president in April 2016 despite supporting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in his state’s primary of Hoosiers that year. Trump, Pence said at the time, had “given voice to the frustration of millions of American workers with the lack of progress in Washington, DC.” His support would help legitimize and unblock a populism that Pence ultimately resisted – including with his refusal to overthrow. the 2020 election – but couldn’t put it back in the bottle despite his best efforts in recent months.
On Saturday, the gasps from the crowd inside the Venetian resort on the Las Vegas Strip belied the reality that all but he and his closest advisers could have seen coming for weeks, if not months.
Pence’s presidential campaign didn’t work. In fact, it was over.
Facing a steep climb to qualify for the third GOP primary debate, the former vice president told the crowd Saturday at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual Leadership Summit in Las Vegas that he realized “this was not my time” before suspending his campaign.
“The Bible tells us there is a time for every purpose under heaven,” Pence told the assembled audience of activists and donors. “Traveling around the country over the past six months, I have come here to say that it has become clear to me that it is not my time.”
In the post-Trump GOP, Pence, who had focused on evangelical-rich Iowa as his path to the nomination, never seemed to draw crowds even there. Earlier this week, a POLITICO photo taken during what would turn out to be one of his final campaign stops in Iowa, at a Sidney pharmacy, went viral, reducing him to a punchline. late night television. Jimmy Kimmel called it “the saddest photo in presidential campaign history.”
At times, Pence seemed to be running more for his place in the history books than for the Iowa caucuses, defending his resistance to Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and criticizing Trump and other Republican candidates in polls above him on everything, from their positions on Social Security. war reform in Ukraine. The Wi-Fi password at its June 7 launch event in Ankeny, Iowa, earlier this year was: “KeptHisOath!”
Pence framed the Republican Party primaries as a battle between populism and conservatism, frequently denouncing what he called “the siren song” of the former. He did manage to shape the debate in limited ways, pressuring candidates like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to pass a 15-week abortion ban and attacking biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy for his lack of experience. But his calls for the Republican Party to revive support for international engagement amid the wars in Ukraine and Israel have failed. His own brother, Rep. Greg Pencewould not support a recent fundraising program for the European nation.
Pence may never have had much luck. Despite his long-standing presidential ambitions — he weighed bids in 2012 and 2016 — he faced a Republican electorate that had soured on his Reagan-era political policies. He received only two endorsements from his home state’s Republican congressional delegation, from Rep. Larry Buckshon and his own brother.
In some ways, it was surprising that Pence lasted as long as he did, given the hostility he endured from Trump’s most ardent supporters. Audience booed him in 20201 at a Faith and Freedom Coalition event – Pence’s own people, his own baseevangelicals he helped Trump co-opt as vice president in 2016.
They booed him at the Evangelical Family Leadership Summit in Des Moines earlier this summer.
And they booed him at the National Rifle Association summit in Indianapolis in April — in his own backyard.
For any other politician, this might have been enough to prevent him from going through with his candidacy. But Pence carried on, still a happy warrior, with his beloved wife, Karen, always by his side. Voters, both Democrats and Republicans, frequently approached him on the campaign trail to thank him for certifying the 2020 election results on January 6, 2021, despite him being the target of increasing pressure from on the part of Trump and his acolytes to act otherwise.
The suspension of his presidential campaign likely isn’t the last time Pence will be in the news in the coming months. He held back a potential endorsement in his remarks Saturday, but others could court it. DeSantis, a frequent target of Pence’s criticism, spoke after Pence and said nothing about him.
But his fellow former Trump administration official, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, whose South Carolina governorship overlapped with Pence’s in Indiana, said Saturday that Pence was “a good man of faith “. He is a good service man. He fought for America, and he fought for Israel, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude. And the senator. Tim Scott of South Carolina, a Reagan compatriot and evangelical conservative, said that “the Republican Party is stronger today because of Mike’s leadership.”
But Pence’s presence can be felt in a deeper way than just support. He will likely be a prominent figure in Trump’s Jan. 6 trial, which is scheduled to begin March 4, 2024, the day before Super Tuesday. He is also set to release a second book with his daughter Charlotte Pence Bond on November 14, titled “Go Home for Dinner.”
In recent days on the campaign trail, Pence seemed to be grappling with the end, speaking about his campaign in the past tense and telling a voter in Greenfield, Iowa, earlier this month that while he felt called to run for president, he had done it. I’m not sure of the end result.
“We didn’t run because it looked like we were seeing a clear eight-lane highway straight to the Oval Office,” Pence said that day. “It has been a continuing blessing to travel among the people of this state.”
It would be his last trip to the caucus.
Myah Ward contributed to this report.