Author Nora Roberts once wrote, “I don't kick a man when he's down, unless I'm the one who put him down in the first place. I don't put him down unless he deserves it. And I don't break my word if I give it. So I'll give you my word.”
In suggesting so, Roberts added context to a general truism that everyone’s familiar with since grade school, namely the admonition to grant pardon to someone who’s a little low on his or her luck lately, or to simply advance compassion to anyone who’s been vanquished. It may be hard to do so when you’ve just beat a hated rival in football season, or when a political adversary eats proverbial crow that he or she richly earned. Think Hillary Clinton, the day after Election Day (November 9, 2016) and you’ll understand what I mean.
Here's guessing there were a lot of Americans who would’ve gladly ignored the warning and taken a full-on (verbal) kick at the awful Democrat back then, knowing that she deserved to be put down!
Nonetheless, the saying came to mind the other day as news broke that former Donald Trump vice president Mike Pence had decided to leave the 2024 presidential race, a conclusion many, many others had reached for him much, much earlier in time. Of course, there were those who counseled Pence not to run in the first place, these crystal ball readers seeing the writing on the wall for his fate. It was certainly understandable how Pence would desire to run for president, having himself been so close to power for several years and no doubt wondered how it would’ve turned out if he were the one calling the big shots.
It's all water under the bridge now, since Pence grasped that he’s not going to be president in 2025, or likely any other time in the foreseeable future – unless, of course, he’s tapped to be a successful Republican’s running mate again, and something unpredictable happens to elevate the Indiana straight man to the Oval Office once the duo is sworn in. It’s safe to say there’s a number of politicians worthy of serving as president someday, but only a miniscule fraction ever reaches it.
Another old saying applies equally to football and basketball: “There’s only one ball.” Therefore, only one player can possess “the rock” at any one moment. In politics, there’s only one nomination for each major party. Not many win it, and even fewer prevail in the general election. No one’s odds are very good. The concept recently caught up to Pence, who became the first “name” Republican to bow out this cycle.
The “kick him when he’s down” part started up after he’d made the announcement, but Pence also received some interesting advice. In an article titled “Trump on Pence’s 2024 presidential race exit: ‘He should endorse me’”, Tara Suter reported at The Hill the other day:
“Former President Trump said his former vice president should endorse him during a Saturday rally. ‘People are leaving now and they’re all endorsing me,’ ... ‘I don’t know about Mike Pence. He should endorse me. You know why? Because I had a great, successful presidency and he was the vice president. … ‘But people in politics can be very disloyal,’ Trump continued following his comments about Pence…
“Pence announced he was dropping out of the 2024 GOP presidential primary race Saturday.
“’It’s become clear to me it’s not my time,’ Pence said during a speech at the Republican Jewish Coalition Conference. ‘I’ve decided to suspend my campaign for president effective today.’ ‘To the American people, I say: this is not my time, but it is still your time,’ he added.”
Yes indeed; even in defeat, Mike Pence remained a classy public figure. For as many commentators who have savaged Trump for his behavior over the years, could any observer write similar bad things about Pence’s demeanor? Hardly. “Exemplary” is a word that comes to mind.
Most pundits didn’t even bother expending energy on Pence’s announcement, figuring, perhaps correctly, that the Republican’s campaign vital signs weren’t good and his time left in the race wasn’t long either way. Barring a political miracle – or a massive change of heart in the conservative grassroots – Mike Pence just couldn’t keep his head above water for much longer.
The same applies to most of the others in the GOP race as well. Within a matter of weeks in 2020, Pence went from being on the proverbial doorstep of a second term in the Executive Office building to being one of the most criticized and reviled (by the shortsighted, in my estimation) politicians in modern times.
Mike journeyed from being seen as popular (in conservative circles) president Donald Trump’s trusty right-hand man to nearly being hanged in effigy (the gallows at the January 6 protest?), all because he maintained a different opinion on the meaning of a poorly defined Constitutional provision, and acted on it accordingly.
It was no small matter, of course. Pence must have known that either way he came down on the question it would earn him enormous scorn from about half the American people. Yes, that’s correct – enemies on the left and right.
Leftists and Democrats celebrated Pence’s conclusion back then. Trump despised it, and said so. Conservatives and Republicans have been torn ever since, some giving Mike credit for preserving order, others labelling him a traitor for not pushing the boundaries. It’s a bad place to be in.
Either way, it’s been harsh to be Mike Pence. People forget it was Mike Pence who arguably saved Trump’s 2016 candidacy. Recall how, after Trump had all-but secured the requisite number of convention delegates to see himself nominated that there was widespread talk and conjecture about who he might choose for a running mate, with numerous conservatives strongly expressing their preference for the lifelong real estate developer and reality TV celebrity to select a known and respected conservative (stable?) for his second-in-command.
Mike Pence (then governor of Indiana) wasn’t at the top of many folks’ vetting lists, but once Trump revealed his choice, the reaction was almost universally positive, including from the GOP establishment. Therefore, Pence had a major hand in reuniting the wings of the Republican Party at a time when such reconciliation was desperately called for, allowing the pair to go into the nominating convention with momentum. The fall campaign then went smoothly, the recent rancor from the primary race having largely been forgotten.
In other words, if there hadn’t been a Mike Pence in 2016, there might not have been a President Donald Trump for a first term. Some measure of gratitude is in store here no matter how different readings or the historical record may indicate otherwise.
Time will tell. For now, beyond the mean-spirited bashes and more charitable honorariums, what does Pence’s exit mean for the 2024 presidential race? Probably the most glaring take from Pence’s demise is the realization that Republican voters have not forgotten the aftermath of the 2020 count and still harbor major resentment for how events transpired – not necessarily just Pence’s role, but the way the DC swamp establishment subjected Americans to at least four years of corrupt-to-the-core senile Joe Biden simply because they didn’t like Donald Trump’s table manners or how he wouldn’t play nice with Democrat leaders – or even the congressional leadership of his own party.
This voter-level devotion to Trump has been evident for a long time now, so it didn’t take Pence removing himself from the 2024 scrum to reveal it. But one of the reasons – probably the primary one – that Pence couldn’t catch momentum was because most Trump backers wouldn’t ever consider a switch from the fiery but controversial pol to the guy who was so “Ah Shucks!” that he put people to sleep just by glancing in their direction.
Mike Pence is many good things, but a charismatic speaker he is not. Here’s thinking whenever Mike Pence occupied a TV screen that most people looked around to see if Trump hovered somewhere in the background. Theirs was not exactly a political match made in heaven, yet it’s undeniable that Trump made Pence better. Did it work the other way around as well?
A second take from Pence’s departure is there’s very little room left in the GOP for the Bush-ian neoconservative aggressive foreign policy. I gotta admit, it always seemed strange to see Mike Pence making speeches to audiences where he argued that it was vitally necessary to package up bundles of United States cash to ship to Ukraine, where the loot was allegedly expended to fight evil foe Vladimir Putin rather than enrich Ukrainian leaders and their corrupted bureaucracy.
Didn’t conservatives essentially endure impeachment of Pence’s boss over the yes-or-no mystery of whether the Ukrainians merited money and arms in the first place? The eastern European nation’s relationship with the Joe Biden family already lent a solid impression that something’s not right there. Sure, Putin is a bad guy and evil dictator, but are the Ukrainians really that much farther up the virtue totem pole at the end of the day?
In the two presidential debates Pence participated in, he argued for continuing to (or even stepping up) aid to the Ukrainian cause, a position that was quite apart from his former boss, who’s made it clear he would do everything in his power to end the fighting as president. And Trump presumably means the two sides would have to forge a compromise which will not be popular with the forever war crowd.
In essence, the 2024 GOP race becomes even more of a Trump vs. the establishment contest without Pence.
While it’s obvious that not many conservatives and Republicans will miss Mike Pence in the campaign news, the former vice president should certainly have a role in future Republican politics. Time always quiets the hysteria people experience once a shocking event happens (like January 6, 2021), and, over time, Pence’s reputation will improve.
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