Pence quits presidential race after struggling to gain traction

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Former Vice President and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks during the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis on Friday, April 14, 2023. (IBJ photo/Mickey Shuey)

Former Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday dropped his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, ending his campaign for the White House after struggling to raise money and gain traction in the polls.

“It’s become clear to me: This is not my time,” Pence said at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual gathering in Las Vegas. “So after much prayer and deliberation, I have decided to suspend my campaign for president effective today.”

“We always knew this would be an uphill battle, but I have no regrets,” Pence went on to tell the friendly audience, which reacted with audible surprise to the announcement and gave him multiple standing ovations.

Pence is the first major candidate to leave a race that has been dominated by his former boss-turned-rival, Donald Trump, and his struggles to  underscore just how much Trump has transformed the party. A former vice president would typically be seen as a formidable challenger in any primary, but Pence has struggled to find a base of support.

Pence did not immediately endorse any of his rivals, but continued to echo language he has used to criticize Trump.

“I urge all my fellow Republicans here, give our country a Republican standard-bearer that will, as Lincoln said, appeal to the better angels of our nature,” he said, “and not only lead us to victory, but lead our nation with civility.”

Pence’s decision, more than two months before the Iowa caucuses that he had staked his campaign on, saves him from accumulating additional debt, as well as the embarrassment of potentially failing to qualify for the third Republican primary debate, on Nov. 8 in Miami.

But his withdrawal is a huge blow for a politician who spent years biding his time as Trump’s most loyal lieutenant, only to be scapegoated during their final days in office when Trump became convinced that Pence somehow had the power to overturn the results of the 2020 election and keep both men in office — a power Pence did not possess.

While Pence averted a constitutional crisis by rejecting the scheme, he drew Trump’s fury, as well as the wrath of many of Trump’s supporters, who still believed his lies about the election and see Pence as a traitor.

Among Trump critics, meanwhile, Pence was seen as an enabler who defended the former president at every turn and refused to criticize even Trump’s most indefensible actions time and again.

As a result, an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research from August found that the majority of U.S. adults, 57%, viewed Pence negatively, with only 28% having a positive view.

Throughout his campaign, the former Indiana governor and congressman had insisted that while he was well-known by voters, he was not “known well” and set out to change that with an aggressive schedule that included numerous stops at diners and Pizza Ranch restaurants.

Pence had been betting on Iowa, a state with a large white Evangelical population that has a long history of elevating religious and socially conservative candidates such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Rick Santorum.

Pence often campaigned with his wife, Karen, a Christian school teacher, and emphasized his hard-line views on issues such as abortion, which he opposes even in cases when a pregnancy is unviable. He repeatedly called on his fellow candidates to support a minimum 15-week national ban and he pushed to ban drugs used as alternatives to surgical procedures.

He tried to confront head-on his actions on Jan. 6, 2021 , explaining to voters over and over that he had done his constitutional duty that day, knowing full well the political consequences. It was a strategy that aides believed would help defuse the issue and earn Pence the respect of a majority of Republicans, whom they were were convinced did not agree with Trump’s actions.

But even in Iowa, Pence struggled to gain traction.

He had an equally uphill climb raising money, despite yearslong relationships with donors. Pence ended September with just $1.18 million in the bank and $621,000 in debt, according to his most recent campaign filing. That debt had grown in the weeks since and adding to it would have taken Pence, who is not independently wealthy, years pay off.

The Associated Press first reported earlier this month that people close to Pence had begun to feel that remaining a candidate risked diminishing his long-term standing in the party, given Trump’s dominating lead in the race for the 2024 nomination. While they said Pence could stick it out until the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses if he wanted — campaigning on a shoestring budget and accumulating debt — he would have to consider how that might affect his ability to remain a leading voice in the conservative movement, as he hopes.

Some said that Hamas’ attack on Israel in October, which pushed foreign policy to the forefront of the campaign, had given Pence a renewed sense of purpose given his warnings throughout the campaign against the growing tide of isolationism in the Republican Party. Pence had argued that he was the race’s most experienced candidate and decried “voices of appeasement” among Republican, arguing they had emboldened groups such as Hamas.

But ultimately, Pence concluded that he could continue to speak out on the issue without continuing the campaign. He chose the Las Vegas event to announce his decision, in part, so he could address the topic one last time before formally leaving the race.

On stage at the event, several of Pence’s rivals, including Trump, did not acknowledge Pence’s announcement that had some only a short time earlier.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who spoke immediately after Pence, made no mention of Pence in his speech, but later praised him on social media as a “principled man of faith who has worked tirelessly to advance the conservative cause.” Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, in contrast, began her speech by praising Pence, saying he had fought for American and for Israel and that “we all owe him a debt of gratitude.”

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16 thoughts on “Pence quits presidential race after struggling to gain traction

    1. He badly wan’t to be VP, thinking he could have a positive impact on Trump. And that he would with God’s help one day succeed Trump and rise to the presidency. It was naive, wishful thinking.

    2. Mike sold a lot of folks on holding their nose and voting for Trump. They’ve since dumped folks like Mike and gone all in on Trump.

      Which I doubt is what he thought the outcome would be … but he bears responsibility for it.

      Unless it was all worth it to pack the Supreme Court. Maybe it was.

    1. He was a good balance to Trump’s personality, but he doesn’t have what it takes to be a front man.

    2. Makes Dan Quayle look like an accomplished and visionary Veep.

      He will recede and become a footnote in American history. At least Hoosier former Veep Charles Fairbanks has an icebox in Alaska named after him.

  1. Mike was a man of character and high morals. I really hope that Republicans (and I’m a life long one) soon wise up, forget about Trump, and rally behind someone that can win a national election and has a lot more integrity than Trump.

  2. I agree with Terry B, when will the party wake up and think about what is best fo rour country. Trump has torn, and continues to tear our country apart. There are good people in the party, they need to come forward and be supported, all for our country!!!

    1. That ship sailed years ago. It’s Trump’s party, remade in his populist image. You either support it or you get out. There’s no equivocation.

    2. Hi James!

      You could always latch on to the donkeys like the tail to Eeyore, exactly as a few Never-Trumpers did. But be warned: if you waver, they’ll be a whole lot meaner than MAGA can ever muster. MAGA might be fanatical sometimes, but unlike MAGA, they have boatloads of institutional power and will use it to destroy you. Just ask Tulsi Gabbard.

      But I’m sure that the party of “unity” and “democracy”–which also happens to be the party presiding over doubling homicide rates, legitimization of shoplifting, graffiti everywhere, defecating in public, every single riot in the last 20 years (minus one that took place on January 6), and the closest we’ve come to World War III. Yes sir, they are the party with the “good people” who will bring everything back together.

      Keep ridin’ with Biden in 2024 James…to save our Democrassy!

  3. I agree, Mike is a good and decent person. I don’t agree with his politics, but he is a good and decent person. Trump rescued him from the defeat that would have been Pence’s 2016 gubernatorial run, and the deal with the devil was to deliver the Christian right to Trump. He did, and we see where it got him. Back home again in Indiana.

    Hanover College, here he comes…or maybe IU McKinney. Of possible solace: unlike many VPs, Mike’s name will likely not be forgotten for some time…

  4. Pence tried to have it both ways.

    They literally wanted to hang him on the lawn of the Capitol building and he still couldn’t denounce what happened that day and turn his back on the fascist-lite administration he was a part of.

    If he had used Jan. 6th as a chance to step up, take the moral high-ground, demand impeachment, and forcefully restore what it truly means to be a Republican he could have become a true leader in a Profile of Courage kind of way.

    Instead, he was largely spineless until it was way too late. Good man. Not a leader.

    1. Always fun watching the unipartyist Deep State Defenders come out in droves. IBJ seems to attract them like flies to a dead elephant.

      Jan 6 was the opportunity to admit that the election was obviously rigged, that the rigging took place after 7pm on Election night, that the State runs so Deep that its Legacy Media will defend it at every turn (including harnessing the FBI to create an American version of the Reichstag Fire, with the Legacy Media to cover for it), and that the donkey party just did everything it has done in its previous incarnations: Tammany Hall, voting corpses in urban America in the 1970s, Jim Crow.

      The only difference is that the cons of yesteryear (Pence’s predecessors) had some spine (very little, but some) to stand up to it, in stark contrast to the neo-cons of present (Pence and his ilk).

      RFK Jr is still a better presidential candidate than Pence. Or Haley, Christie, Hutchison, Burgum…

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