In recent elections, presidential candidates have often picked their rivals as running mates. That way, they can keep their rivals on their side instead of risking a primary challenge.
Ronald Reagan, after running against George H. W. Bush in the 1980 primaries, picked Bush as his vice president. President Joe Biden pulled a similar stunt with Vice President Kamala Harris after hearing Harris slam his record.
Still, sometimes a running mate can turn into a vocal critic.
Since leaving office after one term, former Vice President Mike Pence has become increasingly brazen in his willingness to former President Donald Trump.
Sponsored: Easy Tongue Secret Delivers Perfect Sleep
The two Republicans will hold dueling rallies in Arizona on Friday as they stump for rival candidates who offer dramatically different visions of the Republican Party in a swing state. Days later, they will once again cross paths as they deliver major speeches on the same day in Washington.
The encounters mark a more confrontational phase in the fraught relationship between the former running mates and once close confidantes who could soon find themselves competing against one another in the 2024 GOP presidential primary if they both ultimately choose to run.
“This is going to be the existential question for the Republican Party: Are we going to listen to a slightly different view than Donald Trump’s? Right now, the standard-bearer for this is Mike Pence,” Scott Jennings, a longtime party strategist, told the Associated Press on Wednesday. “I think this is a continuation of the larger message that Pence is trying to embody here, which is the Republican Party should look to the future,”
That description marks a striking turnaround for Pence, who spent his four years in the White House as Trump’s most loyal defender. But Trump turned on his vice president when Pence refused to go along with the president’s efforts to contest the 2020 election.
Famously, Trump encouraged Pence to unilaterally overrule the Electoral College.
In response, Pence said that the vice president plays only a ceremonial role in counting electoral votes and cannot overrule the Electoral College by himself. In 2000, Al Gore lost a presidential race while serving as vice president, and Gore made a similar argument while counting the votes in that election.
Now Pence, who has repeatedly defended his actions that day, is taking a more active effort to shape the future of the party. This week, Pence endorsed Karrin Taylor Robson in Arizona’s Republican gubernatorial primary, pitting himself against Trump, who has endorsed Kari Lake, a former newscaster who shares Trump’s fixation on relitigating the 2020 election.
“Kari will make her wonderful family, and the (Make America Great Again) movement, very proud. Kari Lake has my Complete and Total Endorsement,” Trump wrote in a statement obtained by AZ Central in September. “She will do a far better job than RINO Governor Doug Ducey — won’t even be a contest!”
Pence issued his own statement in support of Robinson.
“As Arizona Democrats pursue the reckless Biden-Harris agenda, Karrin Taylor Robson is the only candidate for Governor that will keep Arizona’s border secure and streets safe, empower parents and create great schools, and promote conservative values,” Pence said in a statement announcing his decision.
Pence has clashed with Trump before. Earlier this year, the former vice president backed Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a top Trump target who easily defeated the former president’s hand-picked challenger this spring.
During Pence’s tenure as vice president, one member of the Trump administration penned an op-ed in The New York Times about his efforts to work around the president. The op-ed was anonymous, but some observers suspected Pence to be the writer, due to the piece’s use of Pence’s favorite word “lodestar.”
But Pence’s Arizona move showed a willingness to weigh in on a closer and open race in alliance with the state’s outgoing GOP governor, Doug Ducey, who also rebuffed Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.
Sponsored: “Fruit Secret” for Blood Pressure Support
Pence is planning to campaign with Robson in Phoenix and southern Arizona Friday — the same day that Trump is set to headline a rally for Lake that was rescheduled after the death of his first wife, Ivana Trump.
Trump and Pence will again cross paths next week as the former president returns to the nation’s capital for the first time since leaving the White House. On Monday afternoon, Trump will headline a two-day summit organized by the America First Policy Institute.
That evening, Pence will address the conservative Heritage Foundation on Monday evening and will speak at the Young America’s Foundation’s annual National Conservative Student Conference on Tuesday morning.
Pence will use his speech before the Heritage Foundation to highlight the policy agenda he released earlier and talk about the future of the party, according to aides. The remarks are expected to offer an implicit contrast with Trump, who has spent much of his energy since leaving office on relitigating the 2020 election.
Pence still touts the accomplishments of the Trump administration. Still, he urges Republicans to leave Trump in the past… and he may be headed for a 2024 showdown with his former boss.
Pence’s efforts come as Trump is preparing to launch a third campaign for the White House as soon as this summer.
While polls show Trump remains the overwhelming favorite in a hypothetical GOP primary, Marc Short, Pence’s former chief of staff and a top adviser, argued that even if Trump does announce a run, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be on the ballot two years from now.
“As the committee winds down, I’m sure he’s looking for a reset that brings attention back on him. And an announcement does not necessarily mean a commitment at the end of that process to continue forward,” Short told the AP. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that the president enjoys being the center of attention. And the announcement puts even additional media focus on him.”
Trump, meanwhile, has continued to slam Pence. At a gathering of Evangelical Christians in Nashville, Tennessee, last month, Trump again said Pence “did not have the courage to act,” drawing applause.
When it comes to a potential race, Trump does not see Pence as a threat, according to allies, who are much more consumed with Ron DeSantis. The Florida governor is increasingly seen by conservatives as a natural and younger successor to Trump’s MAGA movement who can channel the same anger, but with less baggage.
Meanwhile, Trump is dealing with a flurry of legal scandals, and Pence has a long voting record to defend.
Jennings has praised Pence for being willing to stand up to Trump when so many others in the party still refuse to cross him.
“What Mike Pence is doing is extremely valuable. And whether he is a viable candidate for present, I don’t know. But he’s certainly earned the right to make the case for a post-Trump future,” the strategist said.
“He may end up being John the Baptist to someone else,” he added. “Headless but remembered well.”
The Horn editorial team