Pence bows out of 2024 presidential race that Trump is dominating
By Maggie Haberman, Lisa Lerer and Rebecca Davis O’Brien
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who spent four years dutifully serving President Donald Trump but refused to carry out Trump’s demand that he block the 2020 election results, ended his presidential bid Saturday, with a final appeal for his party to return to conservative principles and resist the “siren song of populism.”
The surprise announcement came at the end of his remarks before a crowd of Jewish Republican donors in Las Vegas, and was met with gasps. Pence had received a standing ovation, opening his speech with a full-throated endorsement of Israel’s military operations in Gaza.
Then he pivoted to a more “personal note,” saying that after much prayer and deliberation, he had decided to drop out of the race.
“It’s become clear to me that this is not my time,” he told the crowd of 1,500, promising to “never leave the fight for conservative values.”
Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina, former ambassador to the United Nations and a crowd favorite, opened her address to the group with praise for Pence, adding several lines to her prepared remarks.
“He’s been a good man of faith. He’s been a good man of service. He has fought for America and he has fought for Israel,” she said. “We all owe him a debt of gratitude.”
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, another candidate in the race, said in a statement, “The Vice President has been a prayer partner, a friend, and a man of integrity and deep conviction. The Republican Party is stronger today because of Mike’s leadership.” Chris Christie, former governor of New Jersey who spoke earlier in the day, said Pence, a former congressman, had “consistently fought for American values” and “stood for the Constitution of the United States.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who spoke immediately after Pence, did not mention the former vice president in his remarks. He issued a statement on X, formerly Twitter, while Haley was still speaking, calling Pence a “principled man of faith.”
Eric Levine, a Republican Jewish Coalition board member and a New York lawyer who is supporting Scott in the presidential race, called the announcement “the definition of patriotism.”
Speaking Saturday night at a rally at a country bar in Las Vegas, Trump said Pence should endorse him.
\“I chose him, made him vice president, but people in politics can be very disloyal,” Trump told the crowd, as several people in the audience shouted, referring to Pence, “Traitor! Traitor!” Trump laughed, saying: “He could have done what he could have done, right?”
The departure from the race came less than 90 days before the Iowa caucuses, on which Pence had staked his candidacy. But although Iowa is a more difficult early state in the Republican primary contests for Trump than some of the others, the former president remains dominant there. And Pence’s decision to end his run underscores how tricky the path is to topple Trump — who has been indicted four times, including twice for efforts to stay in power — in a multicandidate field.
Pence is the highest-profile candidate to leave the race, and the first of those who had met the Republican National Committee’s criteria for the primary debates. He had not yet been announced as qualifying for the Nov. 8 debate in Miami, for which candidates must meet a polling threshold and have 70,000 unique donors. Pence’s campaign recently reported more than $600,000 in debt.
After entering the race in June, Pence sought to harness whatever energy might be left in the Trump-era Republican Party for a conservative in the mold of President Ronald Reagan. He was focused on restoring the party to an era of emphasizing fiscal discipline, enforcing the post-World War II order, objecting to government interference with businesses and taking a hard-line stance against abortion.
But Pence, a former governor of Indiana, struggled mightily to raise money, never gaining traction in the polls that his former running mate has dominated. He walked a line between fully attacking Trump and defending the policies of their administration, while also calling out the former president for his efforts to cling to power, deeming them clearly unconstitutional.
As Pence’s campaign unfolded, Trump was indicted twice in relation to his attempts to subvert President Joe Biden’s victory in 2020: in a Washington, D.C., federal court and in Fulton County, Georgia.
Trump had pressured his vice president to reject Biden’s Electoral College victory. On Jan. 6, 2021, that pressure campaign culminated in a pro-Trump mob attacking the Capitol, with some in the mob chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!”
Pence was heralded for his resistance by some who see Trump as an unadulterated threat to democracy. But on the campaign trail, where many Republican voters have come to echo and champion Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud, Pence sometimes faced antagonistic questions about why he had not tried to hand the election to Trump.
Pence became more vocal in criticizing Trump as the campaign went on. More recently, after the terrorist attack by Hamas against Israelis, Pence accused Trump and some of his other rivals of “appeasement” for their isolationist approach to international affairs.
Pence is set to be a key witness for federal prosecutors against Trump in his trial, scheduled to start in March, on charges related to his efforts to stay in power.
As he finished his speech Saturday to the Republican Jewish Coalition, Pence said, “The only thing that would have been harder than coming up short would have been if we’d never tried at all.”
And in a clear swipe at Trump’s behavior, he urged Republicans to “give our country a Republican standard-bearer that will, as Lincoln said, appeal to the better angels of our nature.”