The Republican primary: Pertaining to Pence and beyond

Ryan Heshmati

October 20, 2023

Former Vice President Mike Pence announced the suspension of his 2024 presidential campaign on October 29th. In his announcement, he told Americans, “… this is not my time. But it's still your time.” Pence was polling incredibly poorly, and the campaign was seriously concerned, according to CNN, that the candidate would not even qualify for the next primary debate. While Mike Pence may not be America’s next president, it is important to understand the path that took Pence to where he is today.

Pence is not a stranger to failure in campaigns. In 1988, he ran against Democratic incumbent Philip Sharp for his House seat. He lost, and in 1990, he ran again and lost again. Since he had failed to secure a job as a public servant, Pence turned to radio broadcasting. He spent many years as a conservative talk show host, but in 2000, he was able to win a House seat. 

In the House of Representatives, Pence built a reputation on his conservatism. After over a decade of lawmaking in the House, he decided to run for governor of Indiana. In the 2012 gubernatorial election, while he did attain victory, it was not by a massive margin. Several years later, Pence reached the national stage.

In July of 2016, Mike Pence joined Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Despite a popular vote loss, victory came to the campaign with a win in the electoral college. President Trump, and thus Vice President Pence, failed to win re-election, however, in 2020, which resulted in a serious national division. 

Vice President Pence’s certification of the election created a rift between Pence and the president, explaining Trump’s negative attitude toward Pence’s 2024 presidential campaign. In a Truth Social post reported on by CNN, Trump, belittling Pence, wrote, “Liddle’ Mike Pence, a man who was about to be ousted as Governor Indiana until I came along and made him V.P., has gone to the Dark Side.” 

While Pence made it to the debate stage, a stage Trump refused to join, the former vice president’s campaign failed to ever really gain traction. Pence’s campaign’s failure to carve out a larger following may indicate a larger shift in the Republican party. Pence stood as a strong conservative, which may have been a more effective draw without what appears to be Trump’s hold on the party’s base that would be most receptive to a religious conservative force like Pence.

Now, the Republican party appears to be in a binary split. There are those 

who support Former President Trump and those who do not. Perhaps whether the alternative candidate is Nikki Haley or Ron DeSantis matters a lot less than one might initially think. As of October 28, 2023, ABC News’ 538 indicates Trump holds a 56.9% share of Republicans’ support in the primary. From there are distant rivals Ron DeSantis (14.1%) and Nikki Haley (8%), along with Vivek Ramaswamy (5.8%). Even if all these Trump rivals consolidate under one campaign, even assuming no votes are lost to Trump in that consolidation, the polls indicate Trump would maintain his majority, regardless. Herein lies a major problem for Republicans, like Pence, who are hoping for a nominee other than Trump in a party still controlled by his supporters. 

Another defeat in 2024 for a Trump Republican ticket could weaken Trump’s standing in the party. Or maybe a conviction on one of the many charges the former president faces could do it. Regardless, the Pence campaign’s suspension indicates that currently, the weakening of candidates within the party is hitting Trump’s rivals, not the former president himself.