POLITICS: Campaigns

Mike Pence, proto-Tea Partier, in 2016?

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Philip Klein,Tea Party,2016 Elections,Campaigns,Mike Pence

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence fueled speculation over his future political plans on Fox News Sunday when he didn't rule out a possible White House bid in 2016. Should he run, he could be an intriguing candidate.

In many ways, Pence was a proto-Tea Partier. When he entered Congress in 2001, the small-government enthusiasm of the 1994 Republican Revolution had largely abated, and President George W. Bush's brand of “compassionate conservatism” was all the rage. Pence resisted pressure from party elites as one of a few Republicans in the House to vote against both No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription drug bill. Those two laws would become the poster children for the betrayal of conservative values during the Bush era.

In 2005, as chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Pence led “Operation Offset” -- a failed effort to get the Republican majority to pay for Hurricane Katrina recovery spending with cuts elsewhere in the budget. The idea of offsetting relief spending has now become a standard position for Tea Party lawmakers.

No doubt, in the upcoming Republican nomination battle, there will be a number of leaders who could argue they stood firm for small-government principles. But Pence would be in the unique position of being able to argue that he took his stands not when there was a whole Tea Party movement to rally around him or when a Democrat was in office, but when he was fighting a lonely battle against a Republican administration.

Pence’s name surfaced as a potential presidential candidate every so often on conservative blogs during the 2008 and 2012 nomination cycles. At the time, the fact that he had only served in the House typically left him out of serious consideration, because our political system tends to frown on politicians making the leap from the House of Representatives to the White House. But now that he’s gained executive experience at the state level, he’d be a more plausible contender.

Should he run for president, he'll surely undergo much more scrutiny. There was some barking among conservative immigration hardliners about Pence's 2006 compromise proposal on immigration, for instance. And there would be questions about whether a former talk radio host who has only been elected in a conservative state could compete effectively in a general election.

But all potential candidates carry certain vulnerabilities, and it hasn’t prevented them from being brought up as presidential hopefuls. Pence has been mostly excluded from the 2016 chatter, but maybe that will start to change now.

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