Mike Pence has slowly been laying the foundation for a run at the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. Last month, Pence went to Iowa and South Carolina. On May 13, the former vice president endorsed Gov. Brian Kemp in Georgia’s Republican primary against Trump-backed challenger and former Sen. David Perdue.
The decision to endorse Gov. Kemp did not significantly shake up the race. Kemp was leading in the polls before Pence endorsed him. But it does show Pence is testing the waters for a presidential bid in 2024 by analyzing the response to his moves in important primary states like Georgia.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is another name floated around as a serious contender for the White House in 2024. DeSantis does not break from Trump’s populist rhetoric but builds on it. Florida, traditionally seen as a purple state, has enacted some of the most conservative laws in the country since DeSantis became governor in 2018. From banning critical race theory in state schools to revoking Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, DeSantis has molded Florida to fit his vision for America.
There is a push for DeSantis to become the Republican presidential nominee in 2024 despite his noncommittal stance. A poll conducted at a Wisconsin GOP convention asked attendees about their preferred presidential nominee. DeSantis defeated Trump with 38% of the vote compared to the former president’s 32%. Ed Rollins, chairman of former President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 presidential campaign, has launched the Ready for Ron PAC to encourage a DeSantis primary bid.
With Tuesday’s Republican primary in Georgia concluded, both Pence and DeSantis have lessons to learn. Kemp easily defeated Perdue, while Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger defeated Trump-endorsed Rep. Jody Hice without needing a runoff. Hice launched his campaign because of Raffensperger’s decision to certify Georgia’s election results in 2020. “What Brad Raffensperger did was create cracks in the integrity of our elections, which I wholeheartedly believe individuals took advantage of in 2020,” he said.
Raffensperger’s victory holds the key to running an anti-Trump campaign without mentioning Trump. When Georgia was under fire for its election reform law, Secretary Raffensperger publicly defended the new set of policies. Raffensperger focused on policy and proving his conservative ideology to constituents to counter Trump’s narrative.
In Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s district, voters renominated both Greene and Raffensperger by large margins. They were able to win over the constituents of Georgia’s 14th District, despite both politicians representing different wings of the GOP. Both Pence and DeSantis are likely watching these developments with a careful eye. If a "Make America Great Again" Republican and an establishment Republican are able to win over the same constituency, the door is open for either one of them to challenge the authority of Trump in 2024.
Wrap your head around this fact: GOP primary voters in #GA14 simultaneously renominated Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R) by 53 pts and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) by 20 pts.— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) May 25, 2022
The internal GOP split gives the appearance of establishment Republicans defending their influence from the populists ushered in during the Trump administration. That was not the case in Georgia last night. Conventional GOP wisdom would tell you that Hice should have won over the majority of voters in Georgia’s 14th after garnering Trump’s endorsement, but Raffensperger still prevailed. That conventional wisdom has been broken by the ability of candidates to showcase effective policymaking while taking the fight to liberal politicians and media.
Trump’s rise to kingmaker in the Republican Party is not a disruption to the base of the party. From the Reagan Revolution to the Tea Party movement, the MAGA ideology is a natural outgrowth of American conservatism. Mike Pence portrays himself as a classic Republican who supports the policies of the Trump administration. Ron DeSantis governs as a populist strongman who intervenes on behalf of the people. Both leaders represent different elements of the umbrella that is 21st-century conservative ideology.
These candidates can appeal to the same base in 2024 because American conservatism, as shown in Georgia, has not become hostile to itself. It has modified itself to become as effective as possible. Should either Pence or DeSantis run for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, both have the potential to wield the base for a major electoral victory in 2024.
James Sweet is a summer 2022 Washington Examiner fellow.