I know, I know. Joe Biden just got inaugurated. Donald Trump left the White House for the last time this morning. What business do I have writing about the 2020 Republican primary race?
But, dear reader, you must forgive me. The inauguration of the walking corpse Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. and — more terrifying — his political prosecutor of a vice president, Kamala Harris have put me in a rather deep depression. Thinking about 2022 and 2024 gives me hope, and that is in short supply with Biden poised to rush the Equality Act through Congress.
So, 2024… It’s got to be Trump, right? Not so fast. The Donald will be 78 years old on inauguration day in 2025. Yes, that’s the same age Biden is. If you don’t think that’s a problem, just watch Biden saying, “You know, the thing.”
The presidency takes a lot out of a person, and we’re already playing with fire having the 78-year-old Biden in office, with Kamala jail-pro-lifers-and-expose-conservative-donors Harris a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Trump is a strong political force, but he’s a bit too strong, especially after the Capitol riot. No, Trump’s rhetoric didn’t “incite an insurrection,” but the way he handled the 2020 election loss will tar him — even if the legacy media was too quick to dismiss election fraud concerns.
Trump should be the kingmaker for 2024, but he shouldn’t be the king.
The Republican Party needs to build on Trump’s positive policy successes and his effective messaging without continuing his abrasive insults and his free-wheeling style. The next Republican shouldn’t be the kind of person who unnecessarily alienates people. Does that mean the party should go with a smooth rhetorician who calls for understanding amid demonization like Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.)?
Not exactly. Sasse’s principled stance against Trump after the election is wise, but it may alienate some of the base the next Republican really needs to win.
Should the GOP go with a firm Trump defender like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)? After all, Cruz was the 2016 runner-up.
I have a soft spot for Ted Cruz. When Scott Walker dropped out of the 2016 race, Cruz became my number one pick. But I don’t think he’s quite right for 2024.
There is one name that seems perfect for the current climate in the GOP, and it isn’t Sasse, Cruz, or even Nikki Haley.
It’s Mike Pence.
Yes, the Mike Pence whom Trump tried to pressure into unilaterally rejecting Electoral College votes. The Mike Pence who told Nancy Pelosi he wouldn’t invoke the 25th Amendment.
Mike Pence served as the principled rock in the Trump administration. He didn’t appear much, but he cast the decisive Senate vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as secretary of Education. He delivered strong speeches defending Trump’s record.
Most importantly, he weathered the crucible of 2021 with conviction, upholding the Constitution in both of his decisive moves.
Trump had suggested that as vice president, Pence could refuse to open Electoral College votes from contested states, even though the state governments had ratified those votes. Such an action would have represented the ultimate abuse of federal power over the states, unilaterally disqualifying their votes. Pence wisely refused, instead keeping to the Constitution and certifying Biden’s victory. He did so even as an angry mob burst into the Capitol aiming to stop him.
While this action contradicted Trump’s wishes, it did not represent an act of disloyalty to the president. Pence did not want Biden to become president. He had wiped the floor with Kamala Harris in the vice presidential debate. But he knew that overstepping his bounds would actually tar Donald Trump’s reputation.
A few weeks later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and many others had demanded that Pence invoke the 25th Amendment to oust Trump from office as soon as possible. Democrats used tortured logic, suggesting that the president’s increasingly desperate attempts to dispute the 2020 election results represented a mental decline or a dangerous mental state.
Again, Pence took the noble path, applying the Constitution rather than following the whims of the loudest voices. Trump’s actions did not suggest he lacked the ability to carry out his duties as president (the situation the 25th Amendment involves). Pence wisely decided not to usurp power, even though it would have made him the president.
Extreme Trump fans may not be happy with Pence right now given what happened on January 6, but Pence represents the policies and successes of the Trump administration. The Never Trump faction may not be happy with Pence right now because he still represents the Trump presidency.
But Pence has the perfect arguments to bring both factions around and to unite the party behind him. He has Trump’s policies and Trump’s record but with a bit more rhetorical polish and more appeal to the establishment GOP.
The 2024 election cycle is still two years away, but if I had to put money on one candidate right now, I’d bet on Mike Pence.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.