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The Memo: Could Pence run and win in 2024?

Vice President Pence is in the top class of 2024 GOP contenders as the Trump era nears its end.

The firm expectation across the Republican Party is that Pence will be a candidate in 2024, unless Trump runs again.

A Pence candidacy would have clear assets. Pence has given loyal service to Trump throughout the last four years, even as his personal demeanor is many miles removed from the president’s.

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Theoretically, that would enable Pence to hold onto the Trump base while having a more expansive appeal. Pence’s boosters believe that he could do better with the white, college-educated suburban voters who broke away from Trump, with electorally decisive effects, in November’s election.

But there are plenty of GOP doubters when it comes to Pence’s chances of prevailing, too.

The skeptics question each pillar of the pro-Pence argument. 

They are dubious about his chance of bringing Trump voters to his side in a Republican primary, especially if other candidates are competing for that same swathe of voters.

Pence’s chances of holding “MAGA Country” against more colorful figures like Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzArizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official Biden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear MORE (R-Texas) or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisFlorida scientist who accused state of manipulating coronavirus data tests positive for COVID-19, turns herself in Overnight Health Care: Testing capacity strained as localities struggle with vaccine staffing | Health workers refusing vaccine is growing problem | Incoming CDC director expects 500,000 COVID deaths by mid-February COVID-19 testing capacity strained as localities struggle with vaccine staffing MORE (R), are middling at best, they say. 

Conversely, while Pence’s deep roots in the evangelical movement are an advantage in a Republican primary, his socially conservative strain of Christianity could limit his appeal to moderate voters.

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It is questionable whether college-educated suburbanites will rally to a man with a deeply conservative view of LGBT issues and who famously refuses to dine alone with any woman other than his wife.

More broadly, there is the question of whether Pence really has the charisma and pizazz to mount a successful presidential bid of his own. 

He won six terms as an Indiana congressman and served one term as the state’s governor. But his performance in that one statewide election, in 2012, was hardly spectacular. He won his race by 3 points on the same day GOP presidential nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBudowsky: Democracy won, Trump lost, President Biden inaugurated Biden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear Romney: Founders didn't intend pardons to be used for 'cronies' MORE carried Indiana by almost 9 points.

“It’s going to be a jammed field and he hasn’t really wow-ed anyone. He hasn’t really distinguished himself,” said one GOP strategist who requested anonymity to candidly discuss Pence’s chances.

Casting doubt on Pence’s ability to recreate Trump’s coalition of support, this strategist added: “He’s not a populist. He was put on the ticket because he is a Christian conservative — that’s where his lane is. But Ted Cruz came fairly close to winning from there last time, and he’s not to be discounted. So Pence has to prove that he can outmaneuver Ted at his own game, which is not easy to do.”

Pence’s White House ambitions are muted because of the complexities of the current moment.

Trump continues to falsely insist that he won this year’s election. 

Pence, in turn, has sought to provide support for his boss, while not getting too deeply into the specifics of what should be done.

At a conference of the young conservative group Turning Point USA on Tuesday, Pence insisted that the “election contest continues” and that the Trump team would “keep fighting until every legal vote is counted. We’re going to keep fighting until every illegal vote is thrown out.” 

Despite such public proclamations of support, however, Axios reported on Tuesday that Trump had grown displeased with several people in his inner circle — including Pence, whom the president reportedly felt was “not fighting hard enough for him.”

All of that makes it impossible for Pence to position himself explicitly for 2024.

Many Republicans say it is important not to underestimate Pence’s chances, all the same.

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“It all depends on whether Donald TrumpDonald TrumpClinton, Bush, Obama reflect on peaceful transition of power on Biden's Inauguration Day Arizona Republican's brothers say he is 'at least partially to blame' for Capitol violence Biden reverses Trump's freeze on .4 billion in funds MORE runs, but obviously [Pence] has the support of social conservatives and fiscal conservatives — plus being the vice-president to Donald Trump for four years is a real bonus,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “He is a very strong candidate.”

Matt Mackowiak, a county GOP chairman in Texas, said that he believed Pence was “going to be a major factor in 2024. He has a national profile, and he is going to be able to raise money. He may be able to hold much of the Trump base while reaching out more broadly.”

There are other complications for Pence, however. He was the administration’s lead figure on the coronavirus task force. The White House response to the pandemic has been widely criticized and, even though most of the blame has accrued to Trump, Pence’s involvement could be a liability.

The GOP strategist who wanted to remain anonymous also pointed out that loyalty to Trump is only likely to get any 2024 candidate so far, given that other figures who serve or served in the administration are also widely expected to run. 

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoBiden taps career civil servants to acting posts at State, USAID, UN China sanctions Pompeo and more than two dozen US figures China calls Pompeo 'doomsday clown' after its treatment of Uighurs labeled genocide MORE and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyCan we protect our country — from our rulers, and ourselves? In calling out Trump, Nikki Haley warns of a more sinister threat Nikki Haley unveils PAC ahead of possible 2024 White House bid MORE are two of the names most often mentioned.

“I do think Pence is going to run, but the race is going to have Haley, it’s going to have Pompeo,” the strategist said. 

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“It would be like the Bush presidency ending and Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld all running.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.