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Washington Wednesday: Pence aims to be boss

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WORLD Radio - Washington Wednesday: Pence aims to be boss

The expanding Republican field is not necessarily a boon for Trump


Former Vice President Mike Pence stands on stage with U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, during her Roast and Ride, Saturday, June 3, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall via Associated Press

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 7th of June, 2023. This is World Radio and we’re glad to have you along for today. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Washington Wednesday. The Republican presidential field just continues to get more crowded. Three more candidates are jumping in this week:

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, and former Vice President Mike Pence.

We’ll talk more about Christie and Burgum in the days ahead, but today, we turn our attention to something that hasn’t happened in nearly two centuries: a former vice president challenging his former boss in a presidential election.

REICHARD: Mike Pence is expected to kick off his presidential campaign in Iowa today on his 64th birthday.

He filed campaign paperwork earlier this week, officially entering the race.

He spoke in Des Moines over the weekend. The former vice president touted the accomplishments of the Trump-Pence administration.

MIKE PENCE: We rebuilt our military. We revived our economy by cutting taxes and regulation. We unleashed American energy, and we became a net exporter of energy and energy independent for the first time in 75 years.

Pence is framing himself as the right choice for voters who want to see a return of Trump policies, but without the super-sized personality and the too-candid, too-frequent social media.

Any good will between the two candidates appeared to evaporate in January of 2021 when Trump called on Pence not to certify the results of the election.

EICHER: Trump called Pence a “coward” and suggested he was a traitor. Pence maintained his first loyalty was to the U.S. Constitution, and that Trump was wrong to suggest Pence had the power to refuse to certify the results.

Pence also accused Trump of placing his family in danger by his response to the Capitol riot.

PENCE: The president’s words were reckless. It’s clear he decided to be part of the problem.

Prior to serving as Trump’s VP, the husband and father of three served one term as the governor of Indiana after 10 years on Capitol Hill in the House of Representatives. He earned a reputation as a reliable conservative on both fiscal and social issues.

Like every other candidate not named Trump or DeSantis, Pence is launching his campaign with poll numbers in the low single digits.

So what will a Pence campaign look like, and does he have a realistic path?

REICHARD: Joining us now to talk about it is Christopher Nicholas, a veteran Republican political consultant from Pennsylvania. He’s worked on Republican campaigns since the 90s.

Good morning, Christopher.

CHISTOPHER NICHOLAS, GUEST: Hello, Mary, thanks for having me on and welcome to your listeners.

REICHARD: We played a clip a moment ago of Pence touting the accomplishments of the Trump-Pence administration. But when you listen to that, it sounds like he’s making an argument to re-nominate Donald Trump. So how does Pence walk that line and embrace the things Republican voters liked about the Trump administration, while making the argument that he should be the nominee and not Trump?

NICHOLAS: So when we talk about presidential primaries and multiple candidates like we have now, we often use the expression “lanes,” as in different candidates have different lanes they're in. And in this day and age, there's kind of a Trump light lane, and a not Trump lane. So I would put the Vice President Mike Pence, in that same lane as Governor DeSantis in Florida, and that they are both campaigning essentially, on the mantra of, you know, we're going to continue the Trump policies, but we're not the terrible person he has shown himself to be. A lot of the other candidates are in a different lane, which is more of, “we have a different approach than than the 45th president did.”

REICHARD: Christopher, profile for us the types of GOP voters that Pence MUST win over, and how can he do that?

NICHOLAS: Well, first, I think he needs to get a better handle on Christian conservatives, evangelical voters. So given Pence’s profile before this as a governor and a member of Congress—kind of like DeSantis, right—He has a more natural appeal to those folks than Trump ever did. Trump being with those folks was, to me, always kind of trying to put a square peg into a round hole. And compared to the other option, you know, Hillary Clinton, or Joe Biden, he obviously was the better choice for those folks. But now, you know, you have a chance to reconnoiter the entire field. So if I'm Mike Pence, and I'm not involved with his campaign at all, those are the folks I go to because that is a natural base. He is a natural, hardcore pro lifer. And that to me is locking down those evangelicals and he has a natural inclination to them. And also, you know, being a guy from Indiana gives him a little bit more familiarity with the average Iowa voter than, you know, Trump, who lived in a penthouse for decades.

REICHARD: What do you see as Pence’s greatest strengths and weaknesses as a candidate?

NICHOLAS: While he's obviously battle tested, correct? He was there for the major decisions. He can tout his foreign policy experience. It's hard for your average governor to talk about foreign policy things because their average exposure to foreign policy is leading a trade delegation to Taiwan or South Korea. And that's all well and good but Pence can say look, I know world leaders, I've been there. I've been in meetings with them. I've represented the country to them. And then the flip side of that, as many other people have pointed out, is that the downside for him is that it was the Trump-Pence ticket, and for so long and at every turn, he was Donald Trump's biggest supporter and apologist and defender. That's what you expect in a vice president, but it can come back to bite you. In my book, him breaking with Trump as he did over the January 6th riot and potential insurrection is a good thing. For some Trump voters, that's a neutral or negative.

REICHARD: There is obviously no love lost between Trump and Pence at this point. But there’s also plenty of friction between Trump and former Gov. Chris Christie, who’s we mentioned is jumping in this week. Christie has been a critic of Trump since the 2020 election and Trump’s response to the election results. How hard do you think the campaigns of Mike Pence and Chris Christie are going to go at Donald Trump?

NICHOLAS: Well, so far, Pence has taken a softer, diffused approach towards Trump, and soft and diffuse are words never been used before to describe Chris Christie. So I think you're gonna see a relentless effort by Christie to bore in on Trump and agitate him and try to get him into a spirited back and forth. In that type of venue, I would give Christie the edge.

REICHARD: Let’s talk about that a little bit more. Our total roster is now 10 Republican candidates. In 2016, Trump was able to win the nomination with 45% of the GOP vote, because the field was so crowded back then. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, not a Trump fan. He just declared he would not run for president and urged Republicans that don’t have a realistic path to drop out to avoid a 2016 repeat. Do you think candidates like Pence and Christie will be in for the long haul or might they —fairly early on— be willing to throw their support behind whomever Trump’s top alternative turns out to be?

NICHOLAS: That is the million dollar question, Mary, in my opinion, the 2024 Republican nomination process will not be a mirror image of 2016. And one of the things I mentioned was that Trump's invisibility cloak is tattered and torn. And that is a new development, right? Because Trump always before, "I'm a winner, I'm the winner. I'm the guy that can win." And now, one of the reasons you see so many candidates running against him, and so much money supporting those candidates, directly and indirectly, is because they see Trump is now a loser. He lost the house in 2018. He lost his own election in 2020. And then, a couple of months later lost the Senate, in Georgia. And then in 2022, a lot of the candidates he backed successfully in the primaries, you know, crashed and burned in the general election. And as I remind people in my, you know, approaching 40 years of doing this, you only run campaigns for one reason, and that's to win. So I think at some point, the candidates that are getting in now that are not already as well known, at some point you you face a crossroads. Usually the crossroads is you run out of money, and so that's usually when people bow out. Because if they have money, they're gonna say, "Hey, I'm gonna keep going." I would stress to your listeners, ignore— I mean that forcefully— ignore or national polls on the Republican presidential nomination. Because the campaign right now is not happening nationally, it's happening in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, maybe one or two other states. Follow the state polls there. Because of Trump's stumbles in Iowa and or New Hampshire, then heading into South Carolina, it's a totally different ball of wax.

REICHARD: Christopher Nicholas is a veteran GOP political consultant in Pennsylvania. Thanks for your time today!

NICHOLAS: Thanks Mary. Appreciate it.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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