The Campaign Spot

Recalling When Mike Pence Looked Like a Promising Presidential Contender

The venue for his decision announcement suggested Mike Pence wasn’t going to run for president, and now his former aides are saying the answer is indeed, “no.”

I spoke to some Pence fans a few days ago.

I find this disappointing, as he struck me as the candidate with perhaps the best chance of uniting the, for lack of better terms, Tea Party and Establishment wings of the Republican Party. Pence is a thoroughly consistent conservative. But he doesn’t snarl, he’s rarely negative, and I can’t recall too many off-the-wall statements from him. A couple folks tried to persuade me he was boring, but I saw him address the NRA Convention last year, and he blew the doors off the place. My coverage of that speech:

Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana: As a well-known figure, it’s hard to describe Pence as a breakout star, but he was the next-to-last big-name speaker, and while he joked that following Sarah Palin was like having R2-D2 follow Luke Skywalker, he most effectively matched the call for a broad conservative agenda to the audience before him.

The NRA cherishes having friends on both sides of the aisle, and prefer a pro-gun Democrat over a Republican who wavers; they bristle at the accusation that they are essentially a GOP organization. Pence came closest to arguing that while there is currently a pro-gun majority in Congress, this November Americans can elect a pro-gun conservative majority: “We Republicans didn’t just lose our majorities, we lost our way. I knew that if we kept acting like big-government liberals, the American people would eventually go with the professionals… I’m here to tell my friends at the NRA, from the floor of the House of Representatives, after fighting against that failed stimulus plan, after fighting against that runaway budget, and after opposing that government takeover of health care, my party, Republicans in Congress, are back in the fight, and we’re back in the fight on the right!”

Pence may have even forced the NRA’s hand on whether or not to score the Senate vote on Elena Kagan. The NRA scored the vote on Sonia Sotomayor, the first time they have scored a vote on a Supreme Court justice, a score that will knock down the grades of usually-reliable Democrats like Harry Reid of Nevada.

While various speakers made brief references to the Supreme Court, Pence went right after her: “In 1987 the Supreme Court was asked to take a case involving a D.C. man who had been convicted of carrying an unlicensed pistol. A lower court ruled that the Second Amendment applied to militias and not to individual gun rights. When the man appealed to the high court, Elena Kagan then a clerk for Justice Thurgood Marshall, urged Justice Marshall to vote against hearing the case. In her comment to the Justice, Kagan wrote that the D.C. man’s ‘sole contention is that the District of Columbia’s firearms statutes violate his constitutional right to keep and bear arms.’ To which she responded and concluded, ‘I’m not sympathetic.’ Sympathy for the express language of the Bill of Rights should be a prerequisite of service on the Highest Court in the land!” Pence’s roared final line got a sustained standing ovation; good luck to the NRA official who has to explain to the membership that the group will score the Sotomayor vote but not the one for Kagan.

Other sections from Pence’s address sound like they will fit in Iowa and New Hampshire in late 2011: “America is changing, and she is not changing for the better. A nation conceived in liberty has come of age in bondage to big government. We’ve lost respect in the world. We’re going broke. And our social and cultural fabric is unraveling. It was written long ago that, ‘without a vision, the people perish.’ In the face of failure of leadership at the national level, the people of this country long for a vision for a better America, that will return our national government to the common sense and common values of everyday Americans. A compelling vision, grounded in the timeless principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America.”

Pence may not intend to sound like a candidate, but he’s laying out a good theme for the 2012 Republican challenger. He even has the classic anecdote, recounting a meeting with a laid-off constituent in Newcastle, Indiana in late 2008 who thanked  him for voting against the Wall Street bailout. After Pence expressed sympathy for the guy’s recent layoff, the constituent responded, “I can get another job; I can’t get another country.”

Pence doesn’t want to run, it seems, but we may see a presidential campaign from Sharron Angle. Swell.

UPDATE: CNN reports he’s not running.


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