Why Mike Pence should run for president

Former Vice President Mike Pence during the 2021 Free Iran Summit in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 28, 2021.
Julia Nikhinson

There are no moral victories in politics. You either win or you lose. No one recognizes this more than Donald Trump, who refuses to recognize he lost the election to Joe Biden. It’s also the reason why his former running mate should jump into the race and take him down, win or lose.

Mike Pence’s chances to achieve his life-long goal sitting behind the Resolute Desk are slim, but not zero.

One of the more than a dozen cases against Trump, his enterprises, and his family could break the right way.  Trump is old, obese, and not exactly always in control of his temperament. Age and bad health choices could catch up to him, something he reportedly acknowledges to be true

Moreover, there’s the possibility that the political environment might shift. Our collective attention spans are so short now that Trump won his presidential term after the Access Hollywood scandal dropped in part because it was too far ahead of Election Day.

Still, nothing is better than being an undeclared candidate because you cannot lose — and you get to keep all of the cash for political purposes. In Trump’s case, that’s paying his own properties to hold events to prop up his deflated ego.

So, Trump runs, and beats Pence in the primary 99 times out of 100. Why should Pence run? What could Pence want or achieve from a doomed run for the presidency? 

What every pol craves: Legacy.

If Pence runs and Trump does not, that non-zero chance increases exponentially. Pence has 100 percent name recognition, is well-liked by people who will give him money, and the story about standing up to “his friend” on Jan. 6 gives him access to any media platform anytime.

What would he say? ‘Make the Republican Party Great Again for all Americans’ — no disparaging of immigrants, boring Twitter, substantive policy differences, realistic alternatives, American leadership around the world. All that adds up to “Competent Conservatism.”

A run and a win in an open primary without Trump could restore Pence’s legacy and reset the GOP to a professional institution.

That might be enough for him. Remember: Pence was a former radio host, so he knows how to communicate. He stays in control and virtually never flies off the handle. He’s unafraid of mixing it up with opponents and will not be intimidated by the likes of Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, or Ron DeSantis.

Pence is immediately the front-runner in Trump’s absence and would be tough to beat. He also becomes a viable alternative to Joe Biden.

But the most likely scenario is Trump runs and reclaims the nomination. Pence would get run over by the Trump Train, but it would be a contest for the ages: Never have former running mates sparred in a presidential primary, and the intensity of it would be unmatched. After years of working for and with Trump, Pence knows how to handle him under duress. He knows what sets him off, particularly in private. He could “Christie” Trump in ways that the actual Christie cannot. Pence knows what was said behind doors, and we know he will not lie.

Pence could reasonably defend their record, take credit for keeping Trump from going too far off the rails, and package it in a straight-shooting, calm, but cutting demeanor.

In losing, Pence could show what the road back for the GOP could be after a second Trump defeat.

Do not underestimate how important that is.

We currently only have one political party — the Democrats — with whom I disagree often, but they are professionals. The GOP is irrationally invested in just one of its members. America needs two functioning political parties to be effective, and Pence can bring the GOP back.

Since the bar is so low, a loss to Trump likely would not end Pence’s career. He could command attention on any platform, get paid a bunch for speeches, write his memoirs, and/or build out his Advancing American Freedom PAC into something greater, perhaps along the lines of strengthening democracy.

The one thing Pence cannot do is lose — even if he doesn’t actually win the nomination or the presidency.

Model the behavior you want in your future GOP. He has already taken the first step of separating himself from Trump and Jan. 6; Pence should now campaign aggressively for candidates, but not choose sides in the upcoming primaries. He should take principled stands against Biden’s record, but not attack him personally.

And he should announce his run for president exactly one week before Trump does. Launch cleanly, and let Trump sweat it out in Mar-a-Lago.

When his former boss enters the race, the contrast will be clear: Do you want a party led by someone who speaks straight and coherently about what’s important, or the ramblings of someone who denies reality for his own benefit? 

That’s a race that leaves a legacy.

Michael D. Cohen, Ph.D., is CEO of Cohen Research Group, a leading political, public affairs, and corporate research firm. He publishes the award-winning Congress in Your Pocket suite of mobile apps and teaches graduate courses at Johns Hopkins University on research methods, political campaigns, and public policy. He is the author of “Modern Political Campaigns: How Professionalism, Technology, and Speed Have Revolutionized Elections,” published by Rowman & Littlefield.

Tags 2024 contenders 2024 gop primary 2024 presidential election Chris Christie Donald Trump Joe Biden Marco Rubio Mike Pence Nikki Haley Pence 2024 professionalism Republican Party Ron DeSantis trumpism

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