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Republican primary: Big tent or big top?

Dec 24, 2023

It is almost impossible not to yawn at Mike Pence's run for president. Maybe it's because the Earth still has to revolve more than 500 times before Election Day 2024, but I think it's that the former vice president hasn't the slightest chance of winning despite being conservative, fluent, godly, and experienced.

He is wasting everyone's time and his donors’ money. The boredom he inspires is tinged with irritation at his precooked phrases, buttery-smooth radio ad delivery, and mock-casual shrugs that beg to be understood as those of a regular guy just like you. Pence has had forever to practice being interesting, but he just can't do it.


He's squeezing himself into a Republican primary already clogged with no-hope wannabes. It didn't need another one to compete with Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND), "personality" Larry Elder, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and a couple of guys called Ryan Binkley and Perry Johnson. They won't get enough votes to be a rounding error or make a mathematical difference. They can only make the party look like the big top, just less entertaining.

Pence, however, has name recognition and a smattering of support among evangelicals, so he’ll siphon a few percentage points away from real contenders and make former President Donald Trump more likely to win with only a plurality of the votes.

Maybe Trump can be harpooned by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who entered the race as fixated as Captain Ahab on his prey. But Christie also made little splash for a big man, jumping into the race just hours before Pence did. If he duffs up the Donald, he’ll be performing a public service. But his chances of winning are also those of a snowball on a grill.

Among the other candidates, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley checks boxes on race and gender and is accomplished but lacks fire. And Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is a real talent, smart, engaging on the stump, with a great story, but he's making no headway so far.

The only two candidates who count right now (and might be the only ones over the next 12 months) are Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). The poll gap between them is huge, but Trump knows the governor is a real and present danger to him — confident, quick, popular, with a stellar resume and a highly successful record as chief executive in a major state.

That is why Trump trains all his fire on DeSantis, making absurd charges such as that he handled COVID-19 even worse than Andrew Cuomo, the former Democratic governor of New York. It was, of course, Trump himself whose pandemic record was at best patchy and at worst culpably incompetent.


Even if Trump were not making it plain that DeSantis is a political force, the same fact would be obvious from the way Democrats talk about him. They depict him as Trump 2.0, a new and worse version. President Joe Biden and his nervous followers are desperate to run against Trump. Like Trump, they look forward only with trepidation at the prospect of facing DeSantis.

Now, if only Pence, Christie, and the others would go away and let that happen.