Two more long shots are just days away from adding their names to the ever-growing field of candidates seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. The question is why.
The field is already ripe with popular candidates. Donald Trump has unparalleled name recognition as a past president with a legendary following. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has proven his worth by turning the nation’s most pivotal swing state deep red. Nikki Haley offers a female touch with a bro.ad and impressive bundle of experience. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is widely admired and could be the key to drawing crucial minority votes away from Democrats.
Even entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, while the longest of long shots, has made substantial contributions to the policy debate as a budding conservative thought leader. Whether anyone but Trump can win the nomination is an open question, but one could argue that any of these rivals would be well suited for the number two spot on the ticket.
Seen in that context, why are Mike Pence and Chris Christie intent on running with no identifiable constituency, no lane either can call their own, and thus no genuine hope of winning? Neither would add much if anything to the ticket. Pence will obviously not be chosen again for VP, nor will Christie, who is essentially a watered-down version of Trump. Both are remnants of another era. Does either honestly believe they can win while barely registering in early polling? Are they in it to win it, or for some other purpose – like vanity, revenge – or a book deal?
Can anyone but Trump win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination?
Christie will have much more to say about why he is running when he makes his candidacy official on Tuesday, June 6, as Pence will in his expected announcement on June 7. But in the meantime, Christie’s campaign advisors have revealed that he will conduct a “non-traditional” campaign centered around “earned (i.e. free) media.” Translating political speak into plain language, this amounts to an admission that he won’t be able to raise any significant funds, and thus will likely settle for being a gadfly or so-called truth-teller focusing on the iniquities of Trump, his rival-turned-ally-turned-enemy whom he has taken to calling a coward.
Mike Pence was once loved in his home state of Indiana but not so much now. He was once admired for his loyalty to Trump, but no longer. And his political ideology, once ascendant, has been in sharp decline for many years.
Whatever support Pence might have attracted, outside of Liz Cheney-inspired Never-Trumpers, likely was washed away when he took the opportunity of a white-tie dinner in March hosted by self-satisfied elite Swamp media to wash his hands of any culpability for January 6, 2021: “President Trump was wrong. I had no right to overturn the election. And his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day, and I know history will hold Donald Trump accountable.” What exactly did Pence intend to accomplish by separating himself from Trump in a room full of Trump haters? Did he think his catharsis would appeal to … anyone?
Let’s stipulate that many Republicans believe Pence was unfairly blamed for the January 6 fiasco, that he was truly powerless to act in response to MAGA loyalists who hold fast to the view that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. First off, is that by itself enough for them to cast a protest vote for the former vice president? It is not. Secondly, does Pence, known as a man of deep faith, offer anything to evangelicals that the likable, ascendant, and politically valuable Tim Scott does not? Again, no. Third, is Pence’s traditional brand of conservatism likely to draw support in this era of Trump-style populism? Once again, the answer is no.
When Trump was being impeached for his phone call to Ukrainian President Zelensky, The National Interest headlined its story about the possibility of Pence taking over, “If Mike Pence Becomes President the Neocons Will Stage a Comeback,” with the subtitle, “If Donald Trump exits the presidency, Mike Pence would pursue a hawkish foreign policy.” Good luck trying to sell that worldview in 2024.
In the end, how ironic it is that whatever votes Pence and Christie are able to attract will undoubtedly accrue to the benefit of the frontrunner. None of the Trump faithful will vote for either, meaning their support will come at the expense of DeSantis, Haley, Scott and the rest of the field. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that splitting the tally for Trump’s rivals eight ways instead of six will only improve Trump’s chances of winning. Messrs. Pence and Christie, entering the race specifically to rid the party of Trump, know they can’t win, and that neither will be selected as a running mate. But their insistence on joining the race anyway will only assist in Trump’s bid for a third straight Republican presidential nomination – and four more years in the White House.
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