Pence Navigates a Possible White House Run, and a Fraught Political Moment

Former Vice President Mike Pence has emerged from the Jan. 6 hearings in a peculiar position.

To some Democrats in Congress, he has become something of a hero for resisting Donald J. Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn the 2020 election at a time when American democracy seemed to teeter on the brink. To Mr. Trump and his political base, Mr. Pence is a weakling who gave away the presidency. And to a swath of anti-Trump voters in both parties, he is merely someone who finally did the right thing by standing up to his former boss — years too late, after willingly defending or ignoring some of Mr. Trump’s earlier excesses.

The whipsaw of images creates an uncertain foundation for a potential presidential campaign, for which Mr. Pence has been laying the groundwork. Yet the former vice president is continuing with his travels around the country in advance of the 2024 primaries, as he navigates his fraught positioning.

Much as he did after the 2020 election, when he tried to keep his tensions with Mr. Trump from becoming public only to have him push them into the light, Mr. Pence continues to walk a tightrope, trying to make the best of a situation he didn’t seek without becoming openly adversarial to the president with whom he served and who remains the leader of the Republican Party.

Mr. Pence himself has said little about Jan. 6, though his aides have testified about his resolve as Mr. Trump and his allies tried to press him to subvert President Biden’s victory. On Monday, in an economic speech at the University Club of Chicago, Mr. Pence sounded very much like a candidate — but not much like someone interested in discussing the specifics of what he lived through on Jan. 6.

“We’ve all been through a lot over the last several years,” Mr. Pence told the audience. “A global pandemic, social unrest, a divisive election, a tragic day in our nation’s capital — and an administration seemingly every day driving our economy into the abyss of a socialist welfare state.”

Insights into Mr. Pence’s mind-set at the time have come largely from the testimony of his former chief of staff, Marc Short, and of his former counsel, Greg Jacob. Mr. Pence, as he made clear in his Chicago speech, has kept his sights trained on the Biden administration and on electing Republicans, including Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia and others who were sharply at odds with Mr. Trump, in the midterms. If Mr. Pence has sharper things to say, he may not do so until the fall, when he has a book coming out.

“The situation Mike Pence faces is a political briar patch,” said David Kochel, a Republican strategist who worked on Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign in 2016. “The more he’s praised by Democrats and the media for doing the right thing on Jan. 6, the more some in Trump’s base grow skeptical of his loyalty to the Trump team.” He added, “There is no upside for him to lean into any of this.”

Later on Monday in Peoria, Ill., Mr. Pence called on Republicans to focus on the future and not the 2020 presidential election, an indirect reference to Mr. Trump’s incessant focus on his election loss that continues to this day.

“In the days between now…

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