Former vice president Mike Pence announced Thursday the formation of Advancing American Freedom to promote “the pro-freedom policies of the last four years that created unprecedented prosperity at home and restored respect for America abroad.”
To lead the group, he’s chosen Dr. Paul Teller, a highly regarded former congressional staffer and member of his vice-presidential staff. Teller’s policy chops and conservative contacts are hard to match. Pence has also attracted other conservative heavyweights—like former Heritage Foundation presidents Dr. Ed Feulner and Kay Coles James, Arizona governor Doug Ducey, Ambassador Calista and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, former senior Trump advisers Larry Kudlow and Kellyanne Conway and important organizational leaders like Lisa Nelson, Penny Nance and Marjorie Dannenfelser—to serve on AAF’s advisory board.
If you think this looks like a presidential campaign in all but name, you’re not wrong. Pence says he wants AAF to blend “traditional conservative values with the Make America Great Again policy agenda that propelled the nation to new economic heights, and unprecedented strength and prosperity.” That’s a fancy way of saying “take the best of Trump, jettison the baggage and create an agenda the American people—especially the formerly reliable Republican suburban voters who helped put Joe Biden in office—can embrace.”
It’s a smart formula that relies on addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division. As GOP political consultant Roger Stone used to advise, anything a campaign does that isn’t focused on growing its share of the vote is a waste of time.
The question is whether Pence can pull it off. As a House member, he was a GOP star, perhaps in line to be speaker someday. As Indiana’s governor he was a solid, if not exactly inspiring, chief executive who on the ideas front could never quite outshine his immediate predecessor, Republican Mitch Daniels—who is now president of Purdue University.
Pence has a chance to shine now, to step into the spotlight and show America what he’d do and how he’d inspire voters to embrace conservatism redefined. He could bring back the sunny optimism and hope that defined Reaganism—strong and not defensive but also not obnoxious.
On paper that sounds easy. In real life, it will be hard. The media elite already have their guns out for Biden’s potential 2024 challengers. Look at the hatchet job CBS‘s 60 Minutes just tried to do on Florida GOP governor Ron DeSantis, another possible presidential candidate, by alleging that in exchange for campaign contributions he let the Publix supermarket chain dispense the COVID-19 vaccine. The story landed with a thud—but it’s likely just the first of many drive-bys the media will try.
Let’s face it; the elite media helped put Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in office and have a vested interest in seeing them stay there. That means the knives are out for Pence, DeSantis, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and any other Republican who wants the nomination. This will make it especially tough for the former vice president as The New York Times, CNN and others try to tie him to the former president.
The challenges Pence faces on his way to the White House are threefold. First, he must separate himself from Trump enough to allow the Never-Trumpers to consider voting for him while not alienating the MAGA movement. Second, he has to come up with a bold agenda for growth and reform that will get the country moving again to counter what the Democrats offer during Biden’s term. Third, Trump has to decide not to run.
Since the third point is out of his control, Pence would do best to concentrate on the other two. The team he’s assembled so far represents a top-tier mix of MAGA conservatives and Reaganites, meaning that when he runs, Pence will be a force to be reckoned with.