Commentary Magazine


Pence Raises His Profile

We had the Mitch Daniels flutter. Then it was the John Thune ripple (if you missed it, don’t worry — most of the country did). Now we are seeing some signs that Mike Pence is seriously considering a 2102 presidential run — and that movement conservatives are seriously looking him over. In my e-mail in-box I have word that “U.S. Congressman Mike Pence will give a major economic speech to members of the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, November 29th.”

There is this profile:

Pence identifies himself as a fiscal and social conservative and has the voting record to prove it. Elected in 2000, when compassionate conservatism was trendy, he has never been afraid to play the Grinch, voting against big-spending initiatives such as No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and TARP. Pence has displayed the same kind of consistency on social issues, establishing a solidly pro-life record over the last decade.

That will likely pass muster with the Tea Party crowd. And unlike Daniels, who has already alarmed social conservatives, value voters are rather comfortable with him:

“When I travel around the country,” says Gary Bauer, president of the social-conservative organization American Values, “conservative audiences seem to feel that they would love to see someone new emerge who had the sort of Reaganesque qualities that are so effective in American politics. I can imagine easily a scenario where Mike Pence could get traction and end up emerging as the candidate.”

The conventional wisdom is that a House member can’t win the presidency. I don’t buy that — the conventional wisdom also told us that Hillary Clinton would win and that a newly elected senator with no executive or foreign policy experience couldn’t be elected. As I’ve said several times, forget the election rulebook.

In a crowded field with no clear-cut front-runner, a candidate with a solid conservative record can, if he picks his spots, “break out” of the pack. A debate, a YouTube moment, or a face-off with the president can elevate a candidate like Pence. The greatest challenge he faces, I would argue, is to differentiate himself from the other, traditional Republicans (e.g., Mitt Romney, John Thune, Mitch Daniels). Why him and not one of them?

The challenge, I would argue, for the GOP is to find a Tea Party–friendly figure who is still capable of expanding the base and capturing key independent voters. There aren’t many contenders who fit that bill — Chris Christie and Paul Ryan may be the most widely discussed among GOP activists and serious conservative wonks. But Pence, if he runs a smart race and can break through the clutter, might make it into that category. We’ll find out in the next few months how serious — and effective — he is convincing both Tea Party activists and mainstream Republicans that he can fuse the two wings of the GOP.

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