[guest post by Dana]
Mike Pence has officially launched his bid for the presidency:
I believe in the American people, and I have faith God is not done with America yet. Together, we can bring this Country back, and the best days for the Greatest Nation on Earth are yet to come! 🇺🇸 #Pence2024 pic.twitter.com/A8EkqgCDAm
— Mike Pence (@Mike_Pence) June 7, 2023
Unfortunately for Pence, the Republican Party doesn’t seem terribly interested in his brand of conservatism, at least if it doesn’t come with clenched fists ready to brawl. However, this transition of the Party didn’t happen without Pence’s own willingness to avert his eyes:
Mr. Pence served as Mr. Trump’s yes-man for three years and 11 months. In that final month, Mr. Pence refused to follow a presidential order that was plainly unconstitutional: to single-handedly overturn the 2020 election. His loyalty to the Constitution was rewarded with people in a pro-Trump mob chanting “Hang Mike Pence” as they stormed the Capitol, while Mr. Pence and his family rushed to a barely secure room.
Instead of punishing Mr. Trump for how he treated Mr. Pence, Republican voters have made him their front-runner. More than 50 percent of Republicans support the former president in national polls. Mr. Pence draws around 4 percent. Even in heavily evangelical Iowa, where Mr. Pence is staking his candidacy, he polls around 5 percent.
But it’s not just Mr. Pence’s anti-populist policies that hobble him. It’s that Republican voters have sharply different expectations of their leaders than they did during Mr. Pence’s political rise as a member of Congress and then governor of Indiana.
For the past seven years, Mr. Trump has trained Republican voters to value a different set of virtues in their candidates. He has trained them to value Republicans who fight hard and dirty, using whatever tactics are necessary to vanquish their opponents. He has also trained them to avert their gazes from behaviors that were once considered disqualifying.
For four years, Mr. Pence, too, averted his gaze. He stuck with Mr. Trump through numerous controversies including the leak of the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Mr. Trump boasted about grabbing women’s genitalia. He vouched for Mr. Trump’s character with skeptical evangelicals with whom Mr. Trump ultimately forged his own relationship.
When Mr. Trump, as president, showered praise on the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, his vice president, bound by loyalty, stayed silent. Yet recently on the campaign trail, after Mr. Trump had congratulated Mr. Kim for his country’s readmission to the World Health Organization’s executive board, Mr. Pence scolded his former boss for “praising the dictator in North Korea.”
Mr. Pence may finally feel liberated to tell voters what he really thinks about Mr. Trump. His problem is that most Republicans don’t want to hear it.
Meanwhile, Chris Christie has also entered the race. The once-Trump ally seems convinced that he alone is the candidate that will take down Trump:
I’m the only candidate who can take on Donald Trump and tell the truth.
Every other Republican thinks they can tiptoe around him. I don’t tiptoe.
Get me on the stage and get your popcorn ready: https://t.co/6bndZTT9OO
— Chris Christie (@GovChristie) June 6, 2023
As he said in New Hampshire on Tuesday (a state in which Trump easily beat his opponent in 2020…):
“I can’t guarantee you success in what I’m about to do. But I guarantee you that at the end of it, you will have no doubt in my mind who I am and what I stand for and whether I deserve it,” Christie said, partially referencing a letter from founding father John Adams to his wife Abigail Adams. “That’s why I came back to New Hampshire to tell all of you that I intend to seek the Republican nomination for President of the United States in 2024.”
He then name-checked Trump:
Christie said other Republican candidates are treating Trump like the Harry Potter villain Voldemort, tip-toeing around criticizing him by name.
“Let me be clear, in case I have not been already,” Christie said after bashing Trump. “The person I am talking about — who is obsessed with the mirror, who never admits a mistake, who never admits a fault and who always finds someone else and something else to blame for whatever goes wrong, but finds every reason to take credit for anything that goes right — is Donald Trump.”