If Pence is seeking solidarity, however, it has not entirely been reciprocated. Since January 6, Trump and Pence have talked more than five times, according to a Pence aide, including three this month. But the two have mostly gone their own separate and distinct ways. And Trump aides say they are not keeping tabs on his political machinations like they are for other leading Republicans. Indeed, a handful of those contacted for this piece confided that they had no idea Pence was making his post-White House debut on Thursday.
“The Vice President’s foray into 2024 politics will be met with a more reserved golf clap,” said a former Trump senior administration official, who described Trump’s relationship with Pence as “cordial but not intimate.”
Inside Trump World, there is a sense that Pence no longer has his the utility he once did. When he was chosen as Trump’s running mate in 2016, it was in large part because of his appeal to evangelical conservative voters and the need to sooth over the GOP establishment. But political advisers to the 45th President see evangelicals as one of his most steadfast voting blocs now. And Trump himself has replaced or driven out the establishment that once recoiled at him.
“I like Mike Pence. I think he was a great VP. A great guy,” said a former campaign aide. “But the reality is a large portion of the Trump base doesn’t like him or care about him. He wasn’t a liability [in 2020]. But was he an asset? Sure. He could give good interviews. But his ability to attract new voters wasn’t really there.”
As they ponder another run for the presidency in 2024, Trump aides have discussed people other than Pence to serve in the VP candidate role (assuming Trump wins the nomination). On Wednesday morning, Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo floated the name of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a potential sidekick in the next presidential election, a suggestion Trump did not rule out.
“A lot of people like that — you know, I’m just saying what I read and what you read — they love that ticket,” Trump said on Fox News. “But certainly, Ron would be considered. He’s a great guy.”
And when asked about the future of the Republican party on “The Truth with Lisa Boothe” podcast, Trump skipped Pence’s name in favor of singling out others like South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Nebraska Sen. Josh Hawley, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
Penny Nance, CEO and President of the conservative group Concerned Women for America, said Pence “looms large as someone we know and trust and supported very strongly in the past four years.” Nance, who worked closely with the White House on conservative issues, also said, “I don’t think he’s the only one — I haven’t endorsed anyone — but he is someone who has a lot of respect among evangelical Christian voters.”
While some in Trump’s own circle are skeptical of Pence assuming the MAGA mantle, according to a March survey from GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio, the former VP is the top pick among Republican voters for a presidential ballot without Trump.
“I think if Pence got into a Trumpless field he’d be a top-tier candidate but he wouldn’t be the only top-tier candidate,” said a former Trump adviser. “Would it surprise me to see Mike Pence heading up Heritage instead of running for president or being the GOP nominee in 2024? No.”
Pence’s political career and deep network within the evangelical conservative corners of the Republican party has been carefully built up over the years, as a talk radio host, congressman from Indiana, governor of the state, and a sobering force on the 2016 Republican presidential ticket. Over the course of Trump’s tumultuous four years in office, he stood by Trump’s side through repeated controversy. The belief among Pence aides was that Trump supporters would reward him for that loyalty.
January 6 has changed that, sullying Pence’s reputation among the MAGA crowd and Trump, who told Republican donors behind closed doors earlier this month he was “disappointed” in his vice president for not doing more to stop election certification.