June 24, 2022, should have been the political holy grail for Mike Pence. It was the day he had long strived for, the day Roe v. Wade was consigned to the “ash heap of history.”
“Today, life won. By overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court of the United States has given the American people a new beginning for life and I commend the Justices in the majority for having the courage of their convictions,” Pence said shortly after the Supreme Court issued its ruling on the Dobbs case. “By returning the question of abortion to the states and to the people, this Supreme Court has righted an historic wrong and reaffirmed the right of the American people to govern themselves at the state level in a manner consistent with their values and aspirations. Now that Roe v. Wade has been consigned to the ash heap of history, a new arena in the cause of life has emerged and it is incumbent on all who cherish the sanctity of life to resolve that we take the defense of the unborn and the support for women in crisis pregnancy centers to every state in America.”
Pence’s campaign PAC Advancing American Freedom quickly released a video saying that for pro-life Americans “today is one many thought they would never see” while adding, “His cause is our cause.” It pointed out he was the first Republican in Congress to propose “defunding Planned Parenthood,” he cast a pivotal tie-breaking vote in the Senate as vice president, and as governor of Indiana, signed every pro-life bill he was presented.
“And in the White House, Mike Pence provided the guidance and advice to the president to select Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, three of the five votes making this incredible moment possible,” it continues. “Lives will be saved.”
“For Mike Pence, the mission is still the same: Foster the sanctity of life,” the video said.
Donald Trump’s reaction was more muted, saying, that “God made the decision,” then later Friday calling the Dobbs decision the “biggest WIN for LIFE in a generation” and “only made possible because I delivered everything as promised.”
But the former Indiana governor and American vice president finds himself in a political no-man’s land at the precise time of his most profound political achievement. A recent 2024 presidential poll in New Hampshire had Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis leading Donald Trump by 2%, while Pence stood far back at a mere 9%. A CAPS/Harvard Poll had Trump leading with 57% while 11% backed Pence. A Reuters/Ipsos Poll had Trump leading Pence 54-8%. These polls were taken before the bombshell testimony heard on the U.S. House Jan. 6 Select Committee that has implicated Trump in inspiring the U.S. Capitol insurrection, with Trump supporters chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”
While some Republicans seeking the 2024 presidential nomination are treading lightly on the issue, opting for what one consultant told the Washington Post “the safest place for Republicans is to say, ‘Send it to the states,’ Pence is advocating for a national abortion ban. “We must not rest and must not relent until the sanctity of of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land,” Pence tweeted last week. He tweeted out, “Apply to host Vice President Mike Pence on your campus this fall.”
I was startled when I asked a leading Hoosier pro-life advocate several weeks ago about whether Pence would reap political credit in a 2024 presidential race if Roe were overturned. The reaction was one of ambivalence. This person observed what many in Indiana have said about Pence, which is that he appears to have forgotten his roots and has moved on to the national stage. Indiana Right to Life and affiliates in Northeast Indiana also issued statements of joy at the ruling, but none mentioned the role Mike Pence had played.
I’ve asked a number of members of Congress and key Indiana GOP political operatives this question: Could Mike Pence beat Donald Trump in a 2024 Indiana presidential primary? Not one said yes.
Pence swoops in for fundraisers and an occasional endorsement, the most conspicuous was for Indiana Senate District 14 candidate Ron Turpin, who was subsequently blown out 52-38% by Tyler Johnson in that Fort Wayne area seat in last May’s primary. Pence is scheduled to keynote a coming prominent NE Indiana political event this fall.
At this point in time, Pence is in a GOP purgatory as he begins to build his campaign. He has been praised by congressional Democrats for standing up to Trump on Jan. 6, 2021, but is seen as a deserter by the Trump base, and as a toady bootlicker by anti-Trump Republicans, independents and Democrats. As the New York Times Maggie Habermann and Reid Epstein observed, “The whipsaw of images creates an uncertain foundation for a potential presidential campaign, for which Mr. Pence has been laying the groundwork.”
Memo to Mike Pence: You’ve forgotten the peeps who propelled your Washington career.
– The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com