Matt McDaniel

7 minute read

The Road to 2016: Mike Pence

Mike Pence, official portrait, 112th Congress.jpgQuick Facts:

Current first-term Governor of Indiana

Elected in 2012 and began serving as Governor in 2013

Former Congressman from IN02 then IN06 from 2001-2013

Considered one of the more conservative members of the House

Keys to the Party:

Has considerable conservative credentials from his tenure in the House with a strong pro-life voting record and consistently voting with conservative interests against gay marriage and against compromising on fiscal cliff legislation in 2013.

Was on the House Foreign Affairs Committee

National Journal rated Pence the 19th most-conservative member of Congress in 2011 before his run for governor.

Won the Governorship of Indiana by 2.9%, though he did not get over 50% of the vote (49.5%)

Keys to the Press:

Current first-term Governor of Indiana after having been one of the most conservative legislators in the House of Representatives

Strong opponent of Obamacare and advancing progressive ideology

Proposed a State of Indiana-run news agency (Just IN) that would provide local breaking news and local interest stories. This idea was eventually pulled after significant concerns were raised about Pence’s power to create a news station and the questionable amounts of money paid to individuals looking into starting the outlet.

In 2013, the New York Times rated Pence as the 2nd most conservative governor in the country behind Butch Otter, the Governor of Idaho


Of nearly all of the potential candidates on the GOP side of the 2016 elections, Governor Pence checks nearly all of the appropriate boxes. As a current sitting governor, Pence is two years into the preferred executive experience that Republican Presidential contenders should have. In addition, Pence has a long voting record in congress that reflects his commitment to the Party’s conservative wing and the principles it espouses. Beyond this, Pence is able to make a strong case about his foreign policy credentials as a result of his service on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Governor Pence’s hawkish positions on military issues, including his desire to see the Patriot Act given a limitless sunset and his opposition to the closing of the controversial Guantanamo Bay detention facility, will certainly appeal to the staunchly pro-military social conservative base. Especially given the constant specter of Islamic Terrorism and the persistent threat of the Islamic State, Pence’s constant voting record could be used to back up his positions that he will follow through on his hawkish stances.

Pence advocated against amnesty for illegal aliens but has proposed strengthening the American border with Mexico in conjunction with a guest worker program. Pence has also stridently opposed gay marriage while in the House of Representatives. This position may have tempered to some degree as Pence did not advocate a ban on gay marriage in Indiana.


Governor Pence inherited an Indiana that was remarkably even-keeled. Though keeping the state steadied and economically prosperous would be excellent primary election talking points, the fact is that Pence has had very little in the way of true executive challenges as governor.

Governor Pence’s support of the Patriot Act as well as his unabashedly hawkish stance on American interventionism make him unpalatable to the growing libertarian movement within the Party. Likewise, though Pence has a nearly perfect conservative voting record, the Party’s apparent intransigence on the changing public perception on gay marriage and legalization of marijuana may negatively impact his appeal in the general election.

Odds of Running:


Governor Pence should strongly consider a race for the White House. Though he is only in his first term as governor and would likely be pitted against some of the Party’s more substantial two-term (or three-term in the case of Rick Perry), Pence comes relatively free of any crippling baggage. Though Pence’s positions are open to criticism in the general election for their adherence to the conservative wing of the Republican Party, criticism of Pence would simply be criticism of Republican Party ideas.

As the shadow race continues in early 2015 leading up to candidates declaring themselves later in the year, there should be growing interest around Pence as a potentially serious candidate who can bridge at least one divide in the Party: between the establishment and the conservative wings. Pence has, seemingly, not had to compromise his conservative credentials in order to be elected as Governor of Indiana, nor has he had any major gaffes (outside of a passing comparison between Obamacare and 9/11 which he quickly apologized for). Though Pence may not have the name recognition or the political weight as some of the other current potential gubernatorial or ex-gubernatorial contenders, he comes without apparent skeletons in his closet. The considerable downside of a Pence candidacy is the effective isolation of libertarian voters outside of the Republican mainstream. While this was tolerated in 2012 because Ron Paul was seen as an outsider, the anti-intervention, pro-civil rights, and pro-individual liberty movement in the Party has been making significant gains in the past four years. The alienation of this group will likely set the Party back among millenials and other young voters.

Odds of Winning the Nomination:

Though most predictions regarding the possibility of securing the nomination in 2016 are murky, Governor Pence’s is even cloudier than most. On paper, Mike Pence looks like an excellent and formidable remedy to scandal or gaffe prone governors. He has the correct voting record, is not seen vacillating on principles, and is not the subject of scandal. Likewise, as far as the national media is concerned, Pence, while adopting a hard-line conservative stance, is little-covered outside of the Midwest.

It is this lack of coverage and “dark horse” quality of Pence’s potential campaign that makes a prediction as to his suitability for the nomination so difficult to predict. Especially early in the race, it may seem like much of the establishment Republican money would be going to the more vocal candidates with the public star power qualities. On the reverse, the conservative money will, at least early in the campaign focus on niche candidates who have stances even sharper than Pence.

Governor Pence, aside from the inability of many libertarians to support the hawkish and social-interventionist policies he will likely espouse, could be a very formidable late-game candidate. Governor Pence may not enter the race until the Republican Convention. If it seems that there may be a brokered convention, Pence could easily emerge as a compromise candidate for Republican delegates.

Odds of a Cabinet Position:


While Indiana is not likely to be a swing state in the 2016 election, Pence’s policies are likely to have broad appeal to the conservative base while being perfectly at home in the Party establishment. A potential nominee who lacks the conservative credentials of Pence would benefit from Pence on the ticket.

Pence’s prominence as a governor and former Congressman raises his appeal for a cabinet position.

Bottom Line:

Mike Pence is currently the best-kept secret of the Republican primary season. Untainted by scandal and having broad appeal for his uncompromising principles and ability to work within the Party, Pence could bridge the gap between the social conservatives and establishment. Pence’s appeal to libertarians and his relatively unremarkable period as governor raise some concerns as to whether he should run in 2016 or sit this cycle out. Pence would be an interesting candidate in the event of a brokered convention.

GovMatt’s Opinion: Mike Pence is an extremely interesting candidate. I can’t support him at the outset because of his support for the Patriot Act and interventionism abroad, but he certainly has the correct makeup for an effective run in 2016. I’ll reiterate as I’ve mentioned above, if Pence declines to run, he may very well have quite a large groundswell of support at the Republican Convention in the event no candidate enters the convention with the nomination secured.