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October 30, 2023

Exit Mike Pence

The former vice president is the first major GOP presidential candidate to leave the primary race.

Former Vice President Mike Pence abruptly dropped out of the Republican presidential primary race Saturday, saying, “It’s become clear to me that it’s not my time.” Coming from those of us who actually like Pence, that should have been clear to him before he launched his campaign.

When he announced his bid in June, we wrote, “The former vice president is a fundamentally decent man with all the necessary qualifications for the White House.” We also made a deliberate understatement: “Yet there’s no denying Pence faces a tough road to the GOP presidential nomination.”

When Donald Trump announced his third presidential bid back in November, he instantly became the frontrunner. The reasons for that are obvious: He was the first to announce and is the only former president in the field — not to mention he’s now collecting indictments that only make him stronger. He has an incredibly devoted following, a significant portion of which is made up of Americans who believe that the 2020 election was rigged and stolen, and that Trump deserves another shot.

Those Americans largely fault — and in many cases hate — Mike Pence for failing to stop it.

We’ve argued that’s undeserved because Pence did his constitutional duty on January 6, 2021. It’s arguable that Trump himself knew as much, given revelations a couple of months ago that he told Pence at the time, “You’re too honest.”

The two men have been at odds ever since the post-election arguments, which is a shame given all they accomplished together for America. In fact, though, that record of accomplishment as Trump’s right-hand man is the other reason Pence never gained traction — the anti-Trump contingent of the GOP would never forgive him for spending three years and 11 months as a loyal number two to the Bad Orange Man.

Ergo, Pence never had a legitimate path to the nomination.

He did, however, provide a valuable voice at a time of world insecurity brought by Joe Biden. Should America lead the free world, supporting the Ukrainian resistance against Russian aggression? Should America support Israel against the Hamas jihadists who want to wipe it out? Should America reestablish the necessary deterrence to keep China’s world ambitions in check?

Pence gave an unequivocal “yes” at every opportunity. He brought a steadfast message of hawkishness and strength during Biden’s term of feckless and weak “leadership.”

Yet after 20 years in Afghanistan compounded by the embarrassment of Biden’s surrender and retreat, and when our nation is roiled by various troubles including rampant inflation thanks to government overspending, few Americans — including Republicans — seem to have the appetite for spending more money on foreign wars.

Thus, even setting aside the Trump divide, Pence just didn’t have a path to win over a majority of Republicans in a crowded field of Trump alternatives.

Pence didn’t make a specific endorsement as he exited the race, though Trump made an appeal for it. “People are leaving now and they’re all endorsing me,” Trump said of, er, big names like Perry Johnson and Larry Elder. “I don’t know about Mike Pence. He should endorse me. He should endorse me. You know why? Because I had a great successful presidency and he was the vice president. He should endorse me. I chose him, made him vice president, but people in politics can be very disloyal.”

Politicians can indeed be disloyal. Ahem.

Pence did, however, promise to be a team player. “I will never leave the fight for conservative values,” he promised, “and I will never stop fighting to elect principled Republican leaders to every office in the land, so help me God.”

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