SPARTANBURG, S.C. ― In theory, Nate Leupp needs to be precisely the form of political influencer Mike Pence can count on as he plots out a 2024 presidential run.
The Greenville director of a Christian music store has been a mainstay within the evangelical wing of the GOP in upstate South Carolina for 16 of his 42 years. He has admired Pence for many years. He watched as his bloc of similarly minded Republicans leading the Greenville County chapter was ousted for not being sufficiently loyal to Donald Trump.
And yet, should the 2024 South Carolina primary come right down to a alternative between the previous president who tried to overthrow democracy to stay in power or the previous vp who saved it by refusing to go along, Leupp said he’ll probably go along with Trump.
“For all of the negatives of President Trump, I’d take him again,” he said.
In order Pence returned to South Carolina last week in his continuing pre-presidential campaign, such was the looming challenge: Work out a path within the critical early-voting state without counting on two significant segments of eligible primary voters.
“His problem is: What a part of the Republican Party does he see as his base?” wondered Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon.
Fervent Trump supporters remain outraged that Pence didn’t use his authority on Jan. 6, 2021, to maintain Trump in power, Huffmon said, while “Never Trumpers” is not going to forgive him for “kowtowing” to Trump for 4 years.
“That is a vital tour for him to try to search out a Mike Pence base in South Carolina after he’s potentially alienated each the pro-Trump and the never-Trump wings of the party,” Huffmon said.
One Pence adviser said the onetime congressman from and governor of Indiana’s evaluation of the potential race is identical now because it was not long after he and Trump left office 16 months ago ― that views will change over time, and Trump’s dominance within the party, particularly as rivals start openly criticizing him, will wane.
What’s more, Pence has a natural constituency in South Carolina, the adviser said on condition of anonymity, citing the packed gala Pence headlined Thursday night for the Carolina Pregnancy Center in Spartanburg.
“Once they sell out 2,000 tickets with Pence’s name on it inside a few weeks, that claims something,” he said.
A subdued victory lap over Roe v. Wade
Last week’s leak of a majority Supreme Court opinion that will overturn the 1973 decision recognizing a constitutional right to abortion gave Pence the chance to spotlight his bona fides on that issue over the past many years.
At a National Day of Prayer appearance at a Baptist church in Rock Hill, Pence told the 250 or so congregants they need to “especially pray that the five justices listed in the bulk opinion leaked this week can have the courage of their convictions to right a historic improper.” Dozens of them stood in line following his remarks to greet him and thank him.
To reporters afterward, he was careful to avoid entirely the query of whether a Republican congressional majority should, if it comes next 12 months, pass a national ban on abortion, insisting that laws on such critical issues as “the sanctity of life” should as a substitute be decided exclusively by state legislatures.
A couple of hours later, Pence appeared on the annual spring fundraiser for a “crisis” pregnancy center that counsels woman against in search of abortions and encourages them to either raise the newborn or put it up for adoption. There, while inaccurately claiming that his audience’s views represented the vast majority of the nation, Pence solid it more as a spiritual issue than a political one.
Pence, long a foe of Roe v. Wade, tours Carolina Pregnancy Center’s mobile ultrasound unit in Spartanburg on Thursday. “Crisis” centers like these are supposed to steer people away from in search of abortions.
He described his own entry into the evangelical fold as a university student attending a revival meeting in Kentucky in 1978, and his subsequent decision to develop into energetic within the abortion debate due to his reading of the Bible.
“I knew in that moment that His cause have to be my cause,” he said, and reminded his audience that if Roe was, in truth, reversed, that meant abortion opponents needed to turn their attention to statehouses. “And though I have no idea if I shall be here to see it, I think with all my heart that the day will come when the fitting to life is the law of the land in every state in America.”
Alexia Newman, the director of the pregnancy center and a member of the state Republican Party, said primary voters know that Pence is real about his convictions and shouldn’t be just saying what they need to hear.
“His record has followed him,” she said. “He articulates the things which are dear to us South Carolinians.”
The Jan. 6 legacy
After all, articulating things dear to evangelical Christians was a giant a part of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 technique to win South Carolina after which use that to roll to victories in Southern states on Super Tuesday.
The plan failed, with Trump comfortably winning South Carolina with 33% of the vote, and Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio essentially tying for second 10 points behind ― that, despite Trump’s record as a recent registered Democrat, proponent of abortion rights and tabloid figure with a checkered personal history with women.
The Pence adviser said he was surprised by Trump’s South Carolina win in 2016, but later got here to grasp that many citizens didn’t care that Trump was a combative jerk as long as he could be a combative jerk on their behalf. “We’ve tried the great guy approach with George W. Bush and we got John Roberts,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court chief justice whom many conservatives consider has betrayed their cause. “We tried the great guy approach with [2012 GOP nominee] Mitt Romney and look where that got us.”
Further complicating matters for Pence in South Carolina is the segment of Trump supporters who not only don’t have any problem together with his repeated lies concerning the election that ended up inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, but who also consider Pence turned his back on Trump and the country by not doing what Trump had demanded.
Jeff Davis is the chairman of what calls itself the “recent” Greenville GOP, a bunch that was essentially excommunicated from the state party after it took over the local chapter. (This weekend it hosted longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone and election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell.) Davis said that while Pence has the support of some “far-right” evangelical Christians and “establishment” Republicans, Pence did not do all he could to maintain Trump within the White House.
“Mike Pence betrayed the people,” he said. “I don’t think he has much of a probability in any respect here within the state of South Carolina.”
“Vice President Pence helped set the policy within the Trump administration in a really fundamental way. What he must do is to inform that story.”
– South Carolina state Sen. Josh Kimbrell (R)
It’s not clear how large a slice of Republicans these “Never Pencers” represent, and where they could go should Trump wind up not running.
A far greater problem for Pence is Republicans like Leupp, who once ran the Greenville County GOP before it was seized by Davis’ faction. Leupp said he was an admirer of Pence going to back to the early 2000s. “I really like Mike Pence,” he said. “I wanted Mike Pence to run before anybody knew Mike Pence.”
Actually, the one motion Trump took in 2016 that finally made Leupp a supporter was selecting Pence as his running mate. “That’s when he won me over.”
And after 4 years of watching Trump appoint conservative judges and enact conservative policies, Leupp said, he has develop into convinced that Trump, despite every little thing, could be the most effective for conservatives, even higher than Pence.
Leupp added that he’s confident he’s not alone. “If Donald Trump runs to be the party’s nominee, Donald Trump will win the state of South Carolina,” he said.
Paradoxically, a lot of the normal conservative goals that were completed under Trump happened not because he was personally driving them, but because his general lack of interest and short attention span allowed Pence and others to fill the vacuum.
Lots of the regulatory rollbacks across executive branch agencies happened because Pence’s office was in a position to place officials into senior and midlevel positions, using his contacts within the business community and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity activist network.
Greater than 200 conservative federal judges, including three Supreme Court justices, were appointed because of the efforts of Leonard Leo’s Federalist Society and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, with Trump doing little greater than signing the paperwork.
And the 2017 tax cuts that Republicans almost universally loved were primarily the work of then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, pushing a decadeslong priority of the party.
Josh Kimbrell, a South Carolina state senator and sponsor of three of Pence’s five trips to the state, said this history is already known to many primary voters, and it’s incumbent on Pence to be certain it is thought to all of them.
“Vice President Pence helped set the policy within the Trump administration in a really fundamental way,” Kimbrell said. “What he must do is to inform that story. You want to say: Here’s what I did. Not only what we did, here’s what I did. Because I feel numerous people know, but more people must know.”
Huffmon stays skeptical that strategy would work, particularly with Trump loudly and repeatedly taking all of the credit.
“It’s what the bottom believes,” Huffmon said, adding that the likely overturning of Roe v. Wade because of the three justices Trump named to the high court will provide him much more fodder. “Donald Trump will have the ability to say credit for those appointees.”