ANKENY, Iowa — Former Vice President Mike Pence is aiming to defy the conventional wisdom in a lot of ways with his 2024 presidential campaign, he told Breitbart News exclusively here at his campaign launch event.
Whether all these bets against expectations that Pence is making—each one in their own right is a huge bet, but taken together it’s a very risky parlay—pan out remains to be seen. But if they do, it would be a pretty massive miscalculation by basically everyone else and a big win for Pence.
Pence is the first vice president since 1940 to run against his former running mate, the last being then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vice president trying to stop FDR from winning a third term. No vice president has ever succeeded in defeating his former running mate in a primary, and the only time a vice president ever took down a president in whose administration he served was way back in 1800 when Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams in the general election.. But that’s hardly the only bit of conventional wisdom Pence is running against: He’s challenging the notion that the 2024 GOP primary is a two-man race between his former running mate former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. He’s also challenging the dominant political orthodoxy on number of key issues, like entitlement reform, abortion, and foreign policy, as core tenets of his campaign message.
Asked about his thoughts on the “two-man race” view, espoused by many political prognosticators based on polling that has Trump dominant and DeSantis oftentimes the only other candidate in double digits albeit distantly trailing Trump, Pence told Breitbart News the way he sees it this race has not yet even begun.
“We just finished the Indianapolis 500—a great race, I was there,” Pence said. “The green flag really hasn’t dropped yet on the Republican primary. The cars are out on the track right and some of them are positioned ahead of others but I think when the debates get going this fall, and people start thinking about the challenges that are facing this country—and the leadership we will need to turn this country around—I have every confidence we’re going to continue to see the kind of enthusiasm and support we’ve sensed here in Iowa and around the country.”
Now, even if he does begin to gain traction—Pence is consistently in the mid-to-high single digits in polling right now, but usually in or near third place behind Trump and DeSantis—history has not been kind to vice presidents challenging their running mates. When John Nance Garner challenged FDR in 1940, he lost—and FDR won a historic third term.
The only time in history when something like this worked out for the vice president challenging a president whose administration they served in was in 1800 when Jefferson beat Adams, but while Jefferson was vice president to Adams back then the two offices were elected separately and the two came from different parties—Jefferson challenged Adams in a rematch of the 1796 election which Adams had won and in which Jefferson won the vice presidency. Pence, for his part, does not seem to mind the fact that history is stacked against the type of campaign he just launched—and is happy to take on the conventional wisdom here too.
“I would leave history to historians. What I can tell you is my wife and I have spent a lot of time traveling the country the last two years, reflecting and praying on how we might best serve our nation in a time of genuine crisis,” Pence told Breitbart News. “Look, this country is in a lot of trouble. This is no ordinary time. I believe those of us who have the ability and the experience to bring about conservative change and to deliver victories on election day have a responsible to try. I’ll leave the handicapping and the history to others, but for my part when I look at this field in the Republican primary not only my former running mate but I see others who are walking away from American leadership on the world stage and talking about that the fight for freedom and pushing back on Russian aggression is not in our national interest. I have an altogether different view. I believe in the Reagan Doctrine. I believe if you’re willing to fight the Communists in your country, we’ll give you the means to fight them so that our men and women don’t have to fight them across some other border. When it comes to fiscal responsibility, I see candidates shying away from and avoiding—and my old running take the exact same position as Joe Biden on—entitlement reform. You and I both know 70 percent of the federal budget is entitlements. We not only have a $72 trillion national debt today, but it’s about to increase to $150 trillion in the next 25 years. We’ve got to marshal leadership that’s willing to be straight with the American people and come up with commonsense reform and solutions that Republicans have always been about. And, on the right to life, I think the fact that we have candidates that are hesitating to endorse pro-life legislation and we have a former president who literally blamed election losses in 2022 on the historic overturning of Roe versus Wade. We are the party of the right to life. It has animated our movement for 50 years. I think the American people and Republican voters want to see a leader who will hold the banner of the right to life high.”
That also brings up several major issues on which Pence is running against what many believe to be the politically popular position, instead seeking out the principled position on the hope in his view that Americans—particularly GOP primary voters—will rally behind him on them. First and foremost, Pence is aggressively leaning into seeking actual entitlement reforms to Social Security and Medicare arguing in his announcement speech and in his interview with Breitbart News that over the next decade both programs are headed for insolvency and if they cross that threshold people who depend on them will be hurt.
“It isn’t just that they’re going bankrupt. It’s that there will be automatic cuts when they do,” Pence said of Medicare and Social Security. “Literally, programs people depend on, go to the mailbox to get the checks for, go to the doctor and expect, will be cut if we don’t deal with those issues in the short term. In the long term, if we allow our national debt to grow to $150 trillion in the next 25 years, all the choices for my three granddaughters and for our children and grandchildren will be bad. You’ll either have a Congress that either cuts deep into programs that Americans have relied on and paid into, or you’re more likely going to have Washington DC pass massive tax increases, double the payroll tax, very likely borrow ideas from the European welfare state taxation system and crush the American economy. But if we move now, and we educate the American public—I actually think the runaway spending that’s taken place under the Biden Administration and the 40-year high inflation means more Americans today see the relationship between runaway spending and their family budget. They see the cost of living going up at the grocery store, the gas station, and they realize that it’s the debt the government is incurring that is driving a large part of that.”
Pence, for his part, believes a reform to these programs that does not affect anyone aged 40 or older is possible if American politicians get to work soon—and argued that for younger Americans they could get better returns on their investment if they go this route rather than the government route.
“So, I think we make that case, we explain the cost of it, and we say to every American above the age of 40 that the reforms we’re talking about have nothing to do with you. If you’re in retirement, or going to retire in 25 years, no change,” Pence said. “But, for Americans under 40, I think we can engage in a conversation about common-sense and compassionate reforms—and as programs may change and adjust, we can allow people to invest a portion of their payrolls in a personal savings account which will give them a higher rate-of-return. I like to say, for younger Americans, we need to replace New Deal programs with a Better Deal. Even if you modify the programs themselves for younger Americans, the government portion of it—if you allow people to invest a portion of their payroll taxes in a private savings account, I mean Social Security today will allow you to get a 1 percent return on what you put into it all day long. If we allow you to put payroll taxes in a mutual fund of American companies—which we do every day with federal workers in what’s called the TSP—you could get at least 2 percent. You could double your return. So, to me, there’s all kinds of ideas. It’s not a zero sum game because if you leverage the power of the American market and you explain things to people it can be a better deal.”
On the abortion issue, Pence is extremely bullish about arguing that the GOP is the party of life, and that if elected president he would take a number of bold measures to further protect the life of the unborn—and he argued that the Supreme Court overturning Roe versus Wade not only handed the issue back to the states but back to the voters more generally which means he thinks the federal government can take steps to rein in abortion.
“The Supreme Court didn’t just return the question of abortion to the states. It returned it to the states—and to the American people,” Pence told Breitbart News. “The American people elect presidents and congressmen and senators. So, while we’ll continue to champion pro-life legislation in states around the country—we’ve done that in Indiana and in states around the nation—if I’m president of the United States of America, people can be confident whether it’s cutting off taxpayer funding of abortion, ending public funding to Planned Parenthood of America, ending the promotion of abortion overseas, or ultimately supporting legislation that would create a threshold for protecting life in the country, that we’ll be prepared to support those measures. I think a 15-week ban which would literally align the United States more with our European neighbors—abortion laws in this country today at the national level are more in line with China, Iran, and North Korea—most of Europe limits abortion to 12 to 15 weeks. So, I commend Sen. Graham and others who have offered a 15-week ban. If I was president, I would sign it without hesitation.”
Then, of course, on Russia’s war in Ukraine, Pence’s position is most out of line with the conventional political wisdom. He differs from Trump, who seeks a negotiated end to the war immediately upon returning to office, and from DeSantis who has straddled a carefully-crafted line calling the war a “territorial dispute” while also signaling he would sort of still help Ukraine. But Pence also differs from the current U.S. position from the Biden Administration in that he says Biden is not helping Ukraine fast enough or aggressively enough. To top it all off, Pence argues helping the Ukrainians fight the Russians—without sending in U.S. troops—is in fact in the national interest of the United States.
“Russia is engaged in a war of aggression in Ukraine. They’re attempting to redraw international lines by force. It’s in the national interest of the United States to give the Ukrainian military the resources necessary to push back and repel the Russian invasion,” Pence told Breitbart News. “I also think it’s the best way to send a message to China that we will not tolerate them using force to redraw international lines as well. But, look, we should not send American armed forces into that fight. We have no obligation. They are not a NATO ally. But, if Vladimir Putin overruns Ukraine, it wouldn’t take too long to get where we would have to put American servicemen and women in harm’s country. For my part, I think for peace and stability in the world, it is in our interest to provide Ukraine the resources they need. Now, the Biden Administration has been slow on this. Let’s be clear. They pledged 33 Abrams tanks in January. For heaven’s sakes, it’s June and they still don’t have them and they won’t have them in the fall. We’re still waiting on aircraft. They’ve been slow to provide the materials. Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address that we’re there as long as it takes. Well, it shouldn’t take that long. Look, I think if you give the Ukrainian military what they need, they can win this fight and drive the Russian military out. At the end of the day, I do believe it’s in our national interest to stand with those who are fighting for their freedom but Russia went from being the second most powerful military in the world to being the second most powerful military in Ukraine. There’s also a practical benefit to the United States of America that the Ukrainians have been fighting the Russians and wearing them down, and we need to see it through and I believe that’s in our national interest.”