Oct 31, 2023

Mike Pence drops out of presidential race.

Mike Pence speaking at CPAC in 2017. Image: Michael Valdon
Mike Pence speaking at CPAC in 2017. Image: Michael Valdon

Plus, a reader asks about a typical day for Tangle.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 10 minutes.

Mike Pence has dropped out of the presidential race. Plus, a reader asks about the typical day for Tangle.

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On Saturday, we sat down with Dean Phillips, the Democrat from Minnesota who has decided to challenge President Biden:


I sat down with comedian and podcast host Rajiv Satyal. You can find the episode on Spotify here.

Quick hits.

  1. United Auto Workers reached a deal with General Motors, ending the strike against Detroit automakers. (The deal)
  2. Israel continued its advance into the Gaza Strip on Monday, freeing an Israeli soldier held hostage and rejecting calls for a ceasefire. Israeli forces also carried out a raid in the West Bank. (The latest)
  3. New reporting revealed Maine police received a report in July that the U.S. Army reservist suspected to have killed 18 people in a mass shooting had made threats against his base. (The report)
  4. A trial begins today in Colorado for six voters who are arguing that former President Donald Trump is ineligible to hold office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. (The case)
  5. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) announced he will retire after spending almost three decades in Congress. (The retirement)

Today's topic.

Mike Pence. On Saturday, Mike Pence announced the end of his 2024 presidential campaign during a speech at the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas. The announcement drew audible gasps from the crowd, which had gathered to hear a campaign speech, and was followed by a standing ovation.

"We always knew this would be an uphill battle, but I have no regrets," Pence said. "To the American people, I say this is not my time, but it's still your time. I urge you to hold fast to what matters most, faith, family, and the constitution of the United States of America."  

Pence's candidacy offered a throwback to previous Republican presidential candidates who have emphasized traditional conservative social values along with an aggressively postured foreign policy. He also offered a unique perspective on Donald Trump’s presidency, expressing both pride in what the two accomplished together when Pence was vice president and disdain for Trump's behavior after losing the 2020 election to President Biden. He had continued difficulty standing by his record while touting how he stood strong against Trump, upholding his oath of office while rejecting efforts to overturn the election.

Throughout his campaign, Pence struggled to move upward in the polls or raise the kind of money required to take on his opponents. At the time of his announcement, he had not qualified for the third Republican presidential debate on November 8 in Miami, which helped accelerate his decision to drop out. In his parting speech, he did not declare support for any other candidate, nor did he promise to endorse the eventual nominee.

The Biden campaign responded to the news by criticizing Pence.

 "Since he left office Mike Pence campaigned for election deniers, led the charge for a nationwide abortion ban, and repeatedly called for slashing Social Security and Medicare," Ammar Moussa, the director of Biden’s rapid response team, said. "Not an inch of daylight between the two of them, despite the endless spin from Pence world." 

In the first two Republican debates, Pence tangled frequently with GOP newcomer Vivek Ramaswamy and received praise from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who said Pence deserved credit for resisting Trump's pressure not to certify the election results on January 6.

Pence becomes the highest-profile Republican to leave the race since the primaries began. Lesser-known candidates like Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), Larry Elder, and Perry Johnson have also suspended their campaigns, while former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s campaign manager has resigned ahead of Hutchinson’s expected exit. 

So far, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have said they've qualified for the third debate.

Today, we're going to take a look at some reactions to Pence's decision to drop out from the left and the right and then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left is unsurprised by Pence’s exit and thinks this outcome was a foregone conclusion.
  • Some think his previous fealty to Trump made his campaign’s denunciations of the former president confusing and unconvincing.
  • Others say the end of his candidacy is unlikely to change the dynamics of the Republican primary.

In CNN, Stephen Collinson wrote that Pence “joins Republicans eviscerated by contradicting Trump’s election lies.”

“Pence now joins the swelling ranks of Republicans, from former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney to retiring Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, whose careers were eviscerated by contradicting Trump’s lies. Those lies — namely that he was unfairly and illegally ejected from the White House — are now the foundation of Trump’s 2024 campaign to win it back,” Collinson said. But “the failure of Pence’s campaign says as much about a brand of Republicanism that may be gone forever as it does his own political skills.

“The former vice president’s campaign was a bid to drag the GOP back to its pre-Trump era. He offered social conservatism, traditional hardline fiscal policies and internationalism through strength in foreign policy that contrasted with his former boss’ fawning toward autocrats like Russian President Vladimir Putin. But his failure to even reach the Iowa caucuses — the first GOP nominating contest in January — shows that a party still in thrall to Trump is unwilling to hear the truth about the 2020 election and may have turned against Ronald Reagan-style Republicanism for good.”

In The New York Times, Adam Nagourney said Pence’s decision to align himself with Trump in 2016 “may have cost him a political future.” 

“After more than a decade in Congress, one term as governor and another as vice president, Mr. Pence, 64, is, by every appearance, entering the bleakest period of his public life since being elected to Congress from the Second District of Indiana in 2001,” Nagourney wrote. “His decision to break with Mr. Trump after the Jan. 6 incursion at the Capitol and his challenge to his former boss for the nomination in 2024 angered the former president and alienated the Trump supporters who define the party today.

“But Mr. Pence’s four years of loyalty to Mr. Trump while he was vice president ultimately made it impossible for him to win over voters eager to turn the page on the Trump presidency,” Nagourney argued. “Mr. Pence’s short-lived campaign stands as testimony to the unexpected consequences of that decision. For all the kind words said about him by his opponents after he dropped out… his own future is now uncertain.”

In ABC News, Nathaniel Rakich argued “it doesn't matter that Mike Pence dropped out of the GOP primary.”

“If you're expecting this to be the event that finally shakes up the Republican primary, think again: Pence's withdrawal isn't likely to give a meaningful boost to any of his fellow anti-Trump candidates,” Rakich said. “Normally, former vice presidents make for strong presidential contenders. Before Pence, six of the last seven former vice presidents who ran for president successfully captured their party's nomination… Pence's main problem was that he had no base within the GOP.”

“Pence’s support will flow relatively uniformly to all the other top-tier candidates, which would not help, say, Haley strengthen her argument that she is the candidate best positioned to defeat Trump,” Rakich added. But even if “Pence's support flows overwhelmingly to one alternative candidate, that wouldn't significantly alter the trajectory of the race. Remember, Pence was polling at just 4 percent nationwide. At best, that would take Haley from 8 percent to 12 percent — not nothing, but still leagues behind Trump, who sits at 57 percent.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right commends Pence for dropping out of the race quickly when it became clear he couldn’t win.
  • Some suggest his campaign was pointless from the beginning. 
  • Others say Pence had little to offer voters in today’s Republican Party. 

National Review’s editors said Pence “was doomed” by “doing his constitutional duty on January 6.”

“Pence can take comfort knowing that his faithfulness to the Constitution will be long remembered and if he had bowed to Trump’s pressure, the president’s campaign to overturn the election results would have become a genuine constitutional crisis,” the editors wrote. “A realist might have predicted that Pence’s partnership with Trump would end badly. Politicians don’t usually turn down an opportunity to be on a national ticket, though, and Pence surely figured he could be a positive influence on any Trump administration while perhaps inheriting the mantle at some point.”

“Pence’s hand was forced by his difficulty qualifying for the third debate. But there was never really any doubt that if he concluded his campaign couldn’t win, he’d get out rather than take any of the vote share from other non-Trump alternatives. Other candidates should prayerfully consider his example. At the end of the day, the political weather didn’t favor the former vice president’s candidacy. That says more about the weather than about Mike Pence.”

In the Washington Examiner, Christopher Tremoglie questioned Pence’s “inane presidential campaign.”

“Pence’s campaign immensely struggled to gain any traction since it started, and it was always viewed as destined to fail. At the time he decided to suspend his campaign, Pence was polling nationally at 3.5%. Pence was even behind Vivek Ramaswamy, a person who has never held a political office,” Tremoglie wrote. “It raises the question: Why did Pence even bother to run in the first place?”

“Pence was not a particularly memorable vice president, with the possible exception of his last two weeks in office. Overall, Democrats disliked him, and radicals on the Left despised him because of his faith and religious beliefs. He was never going to get support from at least half the nation’s voters anyway,” Tremoglie said. “He has always been as exciting as watching paint dry. For a political position that requires charisma, Pence has repeatedly shown he doesn’t appear to have any. That, combined with most of the voters in the country not having a favorable opinion of him, made his decision to run seemingly pointless.”

In The Dispatch, Andrew Egger and David M. Drucker called Pence dropping out “another blow to Reaganism.” 

“Pence was always going to be persona non grata to Trump’s loyal voting base. After all, he refused the 45th president’s demands to ignore the Constitution and overturn the 2020 election during the joint session of Congress convened to certify Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory,” Egger and Drucker wrote. “Meanwhile, for Republican voters wishing to move on from Trump, Pence seemed equally unacceptable, a product of his unfailing fidelity to the former president, through myriad scandals, up until that moment on January 6, 2021.

“It might just be that Pence was the wrong man for his time. Republican voters lately seem to have little appetite for the Midwestern congeniality and principled ideology of a politician who for years was fond of saying that he was conservative but ‘not angry about it.’ Rather, Republicans have gravitated toward combative, populist culture warriors like Trump—and others—who better demonstrate their ability to deliver on GOP voters’ number-one priority: to fight.”

My take.

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  • This shouldn't be surprising.
  • Pence is part of a larger strategic error made by Republicans who didn't want Trump to be the nominee again.
  • I think we can officially close the book on this brand of Republican having influence with voters.

This is about the one millionth data point we have that the party belongs to Donald Trump now. And the Mike Pences of the GOP establishment are truly done.

Pence never had a shot, and nothing about his decision should be surprising. In 2016, he functioned as a way to calm the nerves of Christian conservatives in the Republican establishment, who feared and loathed Trump almost as much as Democrats did. Pence helped Trump win over Evangelicals, who appear to now care far more about Trump's record than they care about Pence's faith. Republican voters now even believe Trump is more religious than Pence, one of the most faith-based politicians to ever hold office. He helped shape Trump's image and insulate him where he was most vulnerable, and the candidate he helped create now seems practically invincible.

The reality here is that the faction of the GOP who wants to move on from Trump still seems to be grappling with a massive error they made at the beginning of this primary. The Trump opposition basically falls into a few camps: Those who always despised him, those who supported him but abandoned him, and those who still support him but don't think he can win in 2024 after his role in January 6 and his many indictments. If those factions had coalesced around one or two candidates early on, they could have had a shot to unseat Trump in the primary and get a different Republican to the general.

Instead, they did exactly what was most beneficial to Trump: They threw a dozen candidates into the ring and are letting them all fight over the same bone while Trump sits back and watches.

Kudos to Pence for dropping out. To his credit, he realized he had no chance and no support. We could even see his struggle to generate momentum in our surveys. On June 8, Mike Pence had the support of roughly 10% of Tangle readers in the Republican primary. On August 24, only 2% of Tangle readers considered him the winner of the first Republican debate. Then on September 28, following the second debate, only one of 411 respondents declared him the winner. Now he can exit stage left and continue to bask in his defining political moment, which was refusing to comply with Trump's pressure to disrupt the 2020 election certification. 

Pence's defining political views are his strong social conservatism, his desire for American military intervention all across the globe, and his hope to make massive spending cuts to social programs to balance the budget. In today's political alignment you can have one or two of those things and still rise in the Republican Party — and even more broadly across the U.S. But you can't have all three. Pence’s failure to get traction in the Republican primary should be the final nail in the coffin for anyone who still believes this particular breed of conservative can become president.

Meanwhile, the Iowa caucuses are January 15 — just two and half months away — and we've still got Haley, Christie, Ramaswamy, Scott, DeSantis, Hutchinson, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum all in the race.

As surreal as it might be, the reality here is exactly the same as it was when I said this a few months ago: Trump being the nominee is a foregone conclusion. These other candidates are essentially waiting around to see if they can catapult to the top following some huge event (like Trump actually getting convicted of a crime and having to serve jail time, or agreeing not to run as part of some settlement). 

But if Republican voters get to punch Trump’s name on the ballot in a primary he’s going to win in a landslide. Nobody has ever blown the kind of polling lead he has, and his numbers seem to get better every week. The Republican establishment and Republican voters had plenty of opportunities to coalesce around a real successor, but they didn't take any of them. And it sure as heck was never going to be Mike Pence.

Your questions, answered.

Q: What’s the typical day like for Tangle? 

— Ted from Billings, Montana

Tangle: I've gotten this question once or twice in the last four years, and it is rewarding to think of how the answer has changed.

I used to work on Tangle around my full-time job, so I would start researching topics after the work day and put together a reader question and “Have a nice day” story in the evening the day before. The day of publication, I’d wake up around 5 am, read a bunch of news stories, put together the introduction, copy samples of different summaries, write my take, and rush through a reader question all before I started work in the morning. Then, my dad and a couple of my friends would help proofread it before I sent it out at noon.

That process was exhausting, and when I went full-time with Tangle I basically filled all of the free time up by adding different kinds of content in the newsletter, managing reader responses, and handling the business side of things. Fortunately, we've grown enough that I've built a team to help with all of that.

The next day's newsletter usually starts before the last one goes out (so a chunk of this newsletter was already done yesterday). We discuss what’s in the news and which stories could be good fits for Tangle, then check out which ones are generating the most conversation in editorial pages. While one member of our team puts together the research for the summaries of what the left and right are saying, another prepares the “Have a nice day” story and prepares research for the reader question. 

That frees me up to do a ton of stuff in the afternoon. Sometimes that means coordinating with our marketing and social media manager to see how Tangle’s brand is doing and discuss how to reach new audiences. Other times it means recording an interview or video, or talking with our video editor to see which news stories would best fit for a new video for our YouTube channel. Then there are days where I do an interview or talk with our booking coordinator to see what’s next, or approve some adjusted content with our managing editor to run on different platforms, or I’m meeting with other business owners, or I can just focus on writing a subscribers-only Friday edition, or I’m just spending the afternoon answering reader emails.

Now that we’ve grown in size and raised our standards for quality, there’s a lot to do.

Today, I started the morning by walking to my own office. I get to start my day by just reading and listening to as much as I can (the vast majority of this job is research, reading, and talking to people). Then, I write the summary for what the day’s story is, my take, and an under the radar story. I collaborate with my team to make the numbers and the extras in the morning. Because of prep the day before, I get to finalize and drop in the left and right summaries, reader question, and “Have a nice day” story, freeing me up to record the podcast and spend more time fleshing out my own take.

But if you ask me again in a year, I hope to have another different answer. We’ve got some more irons in the fire, and are looking to add to what we do before the end of the year. So stay tuned!

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Under the radar.

President Biden issued a far-reaching executive order on artificial intelligence that will require companies to report to the federal government any risk that their systems could aid countries or terrorists in making weapons of mass destruction. The order is also aimed at reducing the number of "deep fakes" that could fool voters or consumers. "I’ve watched one of me," Biden said about an artificially generated video his staff made. “I said, ‘When the hell did I say that?’” It's the first executive action designed to address artificial intelligence in the United States, which is quickly becoming known for leading the A.I. revolution. The New York Times has the story (paywall).


  • 275. The number of candidates who’ve filed to seek the 2024 Republican nomination for president. 
  • 6. The number of Republican candidates, excluding Pence, who are polling above 1%, according to RealClearPolitics’ poll average.
  • 145. The number of days Pence’s campaign lasted.
  • $600,000. Pence’s campaign debt as of Oct. 15. 
  • 9%. Pence’s polling average in the Republican primary on January 9, 2023, before he entered the race.
  • 5.3%. Pence’s polling average when he entered the race on June 7, 2023.
  • 3.8%. Pence’s polling average when he dropped out of the race on October 28, 2023.
  • 88%. Pence’s net favorability rating among Republicans on January 5, 2021.
  • 63%. Pence’s net favorability rating among Republicans on January 10, 2021.

The extras.

  • One year ago today we covered progressives retracting a letter urging diplomacy in Ukraine.
  • The most clicked link in yesterday's newsletter was our exclusive interview with Democratic presidential candidate Dean Phillips.
  • Perfectly reasonable: 846 Tangle readers responded to our poll asking about Dean Phillips's decision to enter the Democratic primary, with 38% saying they're 'highly supportive.' 23% were 'somewhat supportive,' 19% had 'mixed feelings,' 10% were 'strongly opposed,' and 5% were 'somewhat opposed.' "I watched the interview and he seems perfectly reasonable," one respondent said.
  • Nothing to do with politics: Why are there so many female ghosts?
  • Take the poll. Who do you support in the Republican field, now that Pence has dropped out? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Marathoner Sarah Bohan was on track for a personal best at the Chicago Marathon when she made a mid-race decision that showed her sponsors PAWS Chicago they had backed the right runner. Bohan stopped when she saw a tiny white face huddled under a pile of leaves. Ditching her PR, she picked up the one-pound kitten, gently nuzzling it until she could find someone in the crowd to look after it. That’s when Bohan found mother-of-four Andrea Maldonado. “We were on the sidelines having fun, and all of a sudden this girl came up to me with a kitten,” Maldonado said. “Our girls love him. Our family loves him. Our dog loves him.” Bohan finished the marathon at 3 hours 33 minutes this year, and says next year she will go again for her personal record. Good News Network has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.