January 3, 2023

[Above: Never forget, Trump and Pence in happier times, 2016. - eds.]

We all know that Mike Pence intends to run for president because he thinks the public admires him much more than it does. He's not the most delusional presidential candidate of recent years -- the 2020 Democratic field included Bill de Blasio, and the GOP field in 2024 is likely to include Asa Hutchinson, Chris Christie, Mike Pompeo, and several other instant also-rans -- but he doesn't stand a chance, and he seems to be the only person in America who doesn't know that.

We also know that he intends to be a coward -- he's only mildly critical of the president he served, even though he was threatened with assassination by a mob that president summoned to Washington. He's refused to say that he wouldn't vote for Trump if Trump is the nominee in 2024. He insists that Trump was "genuinely remorseful" about the threat to him and his family on January 6, 2021.

So when we get to the 2024 Republican primary debates, Larry Hogan and Asa Hutchinson and maybe a few other anti-Trumpers will launch full-throated attacks on the mob violence of January 6. Pence won't. But Trump has now made a strategic move that allows Pence to tell himself that he's a brave man even as he ducks from a fight over Trump's insurrectionism:

By New Year’s Day, [Trump] was busy litigating [the midterm] election results on Truth Social, where he blamed anti-abortion hardliners for the outcome, without mentioning that he’d backed many of them in Republican primaries.

“It wasn’t my fault that Republicans didn’t live up to expectations in the MidTerms,” Trump wrote. “It was the ‘abortion issue,’ poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on NO Exceptions even in the case of Rape, Incest, or Life of the Mother that lost large numbers of Voters.”

Trump not only backed aborion extremists in the midterms but also appointed the Supreme Court justices who made this degree of extremism possible. Nevertheless, backing away from abortion absolutism (which he's never supported sincerely) could be shrewd positioning for him. In June of last year, after the Dobbs decision had been leaked but before it was officially made public, a Pew survey found that 61% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases -- including 38% of Republicans.

But Pence intends to run in the Evangelical-purist "lane" in the 2024 primaries. That's where he's run all his life. So he'll attack Trump as a traitor to the anti-abortion cause, and he'll probably do it with great vigor, the way he should attack Trump on January 6 but won't. And this will get him into the high single digits or very low double digits in a few states. He'll be praised by religious rightists. And he'll tell himself that he's running a very brave campaign even as he's losing, despite the fact that he's a coward about the threat to American democracy.

I dont know what Ron DeSantis will do while all this is going on. I assume he'll remain quiet and let these two fight it out. He signed a 15-week state abortion ban last spring, but he didn't demand a more restrictive law after the Dobbs decision came down. When asked whether he'd sign a "heartbeat bill" that would effectively ban nearly all abortions in his state, he said, “I’m willing to sign great life legislation. That’s what I’ve always said I would do” -- which was reported as support for the bill even though it was just a lot of weasel words.

I don't think DeSantis is a moderate on abortion. I think his position on abortion is "Whatever will get me one step closer to the Oval Office." He wants to hold Evangelicals close without alienating the fairly large percentage of GOP voters (and Republican-curious general-election voters) who don't want a full ban. I'm sure he has enough control over the majority-GOP Florida legislature that he won't be embarrassed by the passage of a full or near-full abortion ban requiring his signature or veto.

So Pence will attack Trump on abortion. DeSantis will remain mostly silent. And we'll find out whether Trump is correct to tack slightly leftward on the issue.

Republished with permission from No More Mister Nice Blog.

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