The Post reports on Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s now very visible interest in a presidential run in 2016. He certainly has support from all quadrants of the GOP and is not off-putting to either establishment or far-right voters and groups.
At this point his greatest advantages may be what he is not. He is not a U.S. senator. He did not take part in the shutdown. He does not lack personality or presence. He does not worry strong social, economic or defense conservatives. He is not a newcomer to the national scene, but neither is he an overexposed commodity. He is not a political novice. He does not have to spend time and money getting reelected this year. He is not a purveyor of paranoia about government or a gloom-and-doom candidate here to warn us that the United States is well on the road to ruin. He is not, in other words, hobbled by one or more of the maladies that afflict other potential 2016 candidates. What then is the affirmative case for Pence?
He seems to be focusing a lot these days on federalism, a theme he emphasized at his appearance at the National Rifle Association confab held in his state. But it’s not clear that is enough of a motivating force or that it is unique. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has made federalism a mainstay of his speeches and actions (including suits against the federal government) for years.
In looking at what is unique to Pence, the focus on message is itself unique. Most of the other candidates mentioned frequently seem to be cultivating a persona (e.g. bipartisan governor, libertarian), not a message. Pence will need an actual vision to stand out, and that right there is an advantage. Hillary Clinton is going to win the famous-person sweepstakes if she runs in 2016, so the key for the GOP will be to find an adept opponent who can offer not a flashier personality but a better vision. The GOP nominee will need to convince voters that she is the standard-bearer for a tired, failed liberal welfare state and that the GOP is the party of reform, the party of the little guy and the party of a strong America.
As for the substance of the message, Pence is perhaps uniquely able to carry out a vision of modernization. That means preparing students to work in the global economy (as he is doing with his home-grown version of Common Core); taking a centralized welfare state (including health care and entitlements) and making it sleek, effective, sustainable and user-friendly (not to mention cheaper); fixing a broken immigration system to promote American growth; and remaking American foreign policy to address the diverse 21st-century threats we face from jihadist terrorists and from countries like China, Russia and Iran. These are all issues he has addressed in one form or another during his career. And having worked both in state and federal government and as a lawmaker and executive, he may have a unique perspective on what each can do best.
An optimistic, forward-leaning message is one that he’s comfortable with, and although his solutions are conservative, the message is inclusive, not excessively ideological, and well designed to exploit the Democrats’ weaknesses and the public’s hunger for change. Too often Republicans run for presidential campaigns as if they are auditioning for leader of the conservative debate society or a Reagan nostalgia tour. A candidate who doesn’t have to spend any time explaining to conservatives that he is really is “one of them” or that he isn’t too nutty to win the general election can more easily chart a substantive and forward-looking message. It won’t be all about him, and that is a good thing.
Could other candidates do this? Perhaps, but the component parts (gravitas, foreign policy knowledge, wide appeal, well-rounded experience) are not easy to find in a single person. That is what is intriguing about a Pence campaign and why, if not him, the GOP needs someone like him in the 2016 race.