Jun 8, 2023

Pence and Christie jump into the race.

Pence and Christie jump into the race.
Donald Trump and Governor Mike Pence of Indiana speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2016. Image: Gage Skidmo

Plus, a question (and a breaking news story) about gerrymandering.

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: 11 minutes.

Mike Pence, Chris Christie and Doug Burgum all jump in the race. Plus, a reader question about gerrymandering and some breaking news about... gerrymandering.

This is not an advertisement: One of the most common questions I get in Tangle is "can you do more international news?" or "what about a Tangle for Country X?" While we focus primarily on politics in the United States, I am thrilled that we have recently partnered with DailyChatter, an international news organization built in the same ethos as Tangle. DailyChatter has been plugging us to its readers and vice versa, and so far, the feedback from Tangle readers has been great. You can try it for 2 weeks for free, and it's just $29.95 a year after that. 84% of all users who try DailyChatter for free stick around after their trial. Sign up here.


Heading into 2024, both political parties are poised to make a huge mistake. In tomorrow's subscribers-only edition, I'm going to talk about what that mistake is — and what a best-case-scenario outcome for the presidential election would look like.

Quick hits.

  1. Federal prosecutors have informed former President Trump's lawyers that he is a target of their investigation into the handling of classified documents, a formality that typically comes before criminal charges. (The notice)
  2. Officials in Texas and California say they are investigating whether migrants were relocated under false pretenses when they were sent on planes across the country. (The investigation)
  3. House Republicans said they were pausing on their contempt proceedings against former FBI Director Christopher Wray, deciding to skip a vote to hold him in contempt on Thursday. (The delay)
  4. Wildfire smoke from Canada continues to affect the northeast. New York had the world's worst air quality yesterday, while professional sporting events, indoor concerts, and outdoor recess were canceled in cities across the northeast. (The smoke)
  5. President Biden vetoed a measure passed by Congress that would have overturned his student loan debt relief plan. It's the fifth veto of his presidency. (The veto)
  6. BREAKING: In a surprise 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has rejected Alabama’s congressional map, saying the state diluted black voters’ voting power by drawing a map with only one district where they made up a majority. (The ruling)

Today's topic.

Mike Pence and Chris Christie. This week, former Vice President Mike Pence (R) and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) each announced their plans to run for president. Both candidates will join a Republican primary race that now includes former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Doug Burgum, the billionaire North Dakota governor and former software executive, also announced his candidacy on Wednesday.

You can find our previous coverage of the 2024 race here.

Today, we are going to focus on Pence and Christie announcing. Pence, who has also served as a House member and governor in Indiana, announced his campaign with a video on Wednesday, saying that different times call for different leadership. Notably, Pence did not mention Trump a single time in the video, nor did he display any images of him with the former president.

"Today, our party and our country need a leader that will appeal, as [Abraham] Lincoln said, to the better angels of our nature," Pence said. "It'd be easy to stay on the sidelines — but that's not how I was raised. That's why today, before God and my family, I'm announcing I'm running for president of the United States."

He then kicked it off by campaigning in Iowa, hoping to win the first caucus of the election cycle to gain momentum in the race. Pence highlighted cutting taxes, destroying ISIS, nominating conservative Supreme Court justices, and standing up to foes as accomplishments of the Trump administration. Pence also criticized Trump, saying he "demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution." He added thatTrump had promised to govern as a conservative in 2016, but no longer makes those promises — instead retreating from support for restrictions on abortion and failing to outline plans to address the country's spending issues.

Christie, meanwhile, kicked off his campaign at a town hall event in New Hampshire with the most aggressive attacks on the former president from any GOP candidate so far. Christie called Trump a "bitter, angry man," described his time in office as a failure, and accused Trump and the Kushners of profiting off of the presidency through investment money acquired from the Saudi crown prince.

“The grift from this family is breathtaking,” Christie said. “It’s breathtaking. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Kushner walk out of the White House and months later get $2 billion from the Saudis?”

It is the second time Christie has run for president. In 2016, he failed to get much traction with voters, and his record — including several scandals as governor — hampered his candidacy. Eventually, he endorsed Trump, which came at a time when Trump still needed to win over establishment Republicans. Current polling shows Christie is one of the least popular candidates in the Republican field. In order to even get on the debate stage with his fellow Republicans, Christie will need to get 40,000 unique donors. The New York Times, which attended his event, reported that the audience was primarily made up of independent voters — not Republicans — who had a strong dislike for Trump.

Today, we're going to break down some reactions to the announcements from the right and left. Then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • Many on the right are skeptical of Pence’s and Christie’s chances.
  • Some argue they are simply running as Trump spoilers.
  • Others support the candidates, especially Pence, and argue that his qualifications make him a viable option.

In Townhall, Byron York questioned Mike Pence's "Ill-starred" presidential run.

"On paper, has there ever been a more qualified candidate for president than Mike Pence? Twelve years in the House of Representatives, four as governor of Indiana and four as vice president of the United States. No president in at least the last 30 years has come to office with that kind of resume," he wrote. And yet he is in a nearly impossible situation, "both running on and running away from his record" from 2017 to 2021. Pence touted his resume without once naming former President Trump.

"To call the moment odd would be an understatement," York wrote. "Pence would not say the name of the president that everyone knew. And he could only praise the 'first three years' of the administration in which he served and which ended disastrously. How is that a strong platform on which to run for president?" In addition to not naming Trump, he faces attacks from him, along with low polling numbers. "In any other time, Pence would be a natural presidential candidate. In today's historically weird political world, his candidacy is deeply troubled even as it begins."

In PJ Media, Ben Bartee asked why a "delusional Chris Christie" joined the other 5,000 delusional GOP candidates?

Christie is joining "seemingly thousands of other candidates who are never going to poll above 1%." In his campaign launch, he compared Trump to Voldemort and was "a little over the top" with his denunciation of Ivanka Trump. "It’s pretty clear, based on the rhetoric employed in his campaign announcement speech, that the party leadership and donor class have recruited Christie to be the attack dog targeting Trump, and the corporate state media is here for it," Bartee wrote. The real question is, "Why would anyone vote for Trump Light when they can have the real thing?"

"The reason Chris Christie is hopeless as a candidate isn’t that he’s currently polling at nothing. Trump started off that way in 2015. It’s possible to build momentum over time," Bartee said. "The reason Christie, Haley, Pence, et al. are destined to fail is that they’re repeating boring, outdated GOP talking points from the Mitt Romney era. That’s all over, but they can’t let it go because their donors inform their talking points, not any kind of ideological core."

National Review's editors called Pence's decision a "leap of faith."

Pence is "a good man, a solid conservative, and as qualified and prepared for the job as anyone in the field, including the current and former president. He undoubtedly would make a fine president," the editors said. "Trump’s harshest critics, especially those who place little value on conservative policy, blame Pence for not standing up more publicly against the president’s worst impulses during their five-year partnership. This is unfair." There is an important role for an inside man who offers his counsel "only in private" and does his best to steer the ship of the state. When Pence had to choose, "he made the right call."

"Pence presents a particularly stark contrast with Florida governor Ron DeSantis on how to strike the balance between state self-government and the private free-speech rights of business," the editors said. The party deserves a serious debate on this very question between two serious men. We would like to believe it is ready for one, but the presence of Trump in the field is likely to overshadow them." Fortunately, "Pence is uniquely well situated to confront Trump over his failings." Nobody was more loyal and nobody can match his moral standing. "We hope that he says those things, and lets the chips fall where they may."

What the left is saying.

  • Many on the left are critical of both candidates, but hope they will challenge Trump directly.
  • Some argue Pence has no lane to drive in any more.
  • Others say Christie’s campaign may do some good if he decides to take on Trump directly.

In Slate, Ben Mathis-Lilley asked "what lane Pence thinks he is driving in."

Why is he running? "Well, because he wants to be president—that much has been clear since he accepted an invitation to be Donald Trump’s running mate in 2016 despite his obvious incompatibility with Trump as a matter of both personal comportment and ideology. Among other things, Pence was a 'traditional family values' guy and national security 'hawk' vis-à-vis figures like Vladimir Putin; joining the Trump campaign was pretty obviously a case of careerism over principle. And when you’re ambitious, and you’re the vice president, the next job you’re probably looking for is the big one!"

Pence's record is "extremely conservative" even by Republican standards. "He criticized George H.W. Bush for signing civil rights legislation and raising taxes," he "warned that a Medicare prescription drug benefit supported by the younger Bush" ushered in socialized medicine, and "his most high-profile act as governor of Indiana was signing a bill intended to allow businesses to refuse service to gay customers." This is why Trump selected him as vice president, but "the idea of someone as fiscally and socially conservative as Pence winning a national election in 2024, or really at any point in modern U.S. history, is far-fetched."

In MSNBC, Zeeshan Aleem wrote about why Chris Christie 2024 "could be good for America."

To call him a longshot would be "putting it gently," but Christie "still has an opportunity to make a splash in the primaries." He is signaling his plans to be "the Trump slayer in the race" by focusing his combative energy on bashing former President Trump for "his lies about the 2020 election." The strategy is unlikely to give him a path to the nomination, but it’s something that no major politician in the GOP has seriously attempted since Trump’s rise." If Christie wounds Trump, his candidacy "could be a force for good."

In 2016, he "made his mark as a brawler," hammering Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) over his policy record and repetitive talking points. Many political analysts and even Rubio himself "believe that Christie’s barbs helped crater Rubio’s chances in a critical primary and helped clear a wider path for Trump, who won the race." This time, Christie "wants to channel that same gladiatorial instinct against Trump. In media appearances, Christie has advocated for direct confrontation with Trump as the only way to beat him." That prospect is "worth watching."

In Esquire, Charles P. Pierce wrote about "the choir boy" Mike Pence and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum jumping in.

It was a "red letter day" for the "hopefulness of the hopeless," Pierce said. "The Republican primary field grew by two candidates and the race for second place grew even more chaotic, and it probably was the best news to hit Mar-a-Lago in a year." Trump is getting "the big primary field of his dreams." Unfairly, Pence got more attention than Burgum, despite being "a lawn jockey at Camp Runamuck for four years." Burgum has "one thing going for him," which is his own personal fortune. He sold his company to Microsoft for $1.1 billion, so he "can float his own boat for a while."

Pence, meanwhile, "worked on his latest material— that he and El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago did great things for the country until January 6, 2021, when the boss tried to ice Pence in the chamber of the House of Representatives." Pence is going to run his entire campaign in this "ungainly straddle" of bragging about his time in the White House and distancing himself from Trump. "It would take an incredibly deft politician with a substantial pre-existing base of popularity to pull that off. Be honest. Does that sound like Mike Pence to you?"

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. You can also leave a comment.

  • Christie and Pence could put a dent in a Trump, but this is mostly great news for the former president.
  • It's a math game — the more candidates, the better Trump's odds.
  • If none of them drop out before Iowa, Trump will be celebrating.

There are two threads here that I think are worth pulling at, and they both relate to the frontrunners: Trump and DeSantis.

The bad news for Trump is that Christie and Pence probably represent his biggest threats on stage and in the media. Christie has a lot of weaknesses as a candidate, chiefly his laundry list of scandals and the simple fact he has never been able to appeal to a broad swathe of the country. I don’t think he has any shot of winning. But he is good on stage. And he is good at being confrontational. And so far, he's the only person who seems willing to actually throw some haymakers at Trump: He criticized Ivanka, Jared, and Trump's 2020 election denialism in his first day on the trail. Many voters are going to respect the attitude, but even the ones who don't are going to hear the criticisms — because the media is going to eat it up.

Pence isn't a brawler like Christie, but his strength is that he "has the receipts.” He was in the room. He can speak to Trump’s leadership, to his judgment, and to his failings. He can also take credit for his victories, which puts him in a unique position. Together, I don't think they'd combine for double-digit polling support once this race gets underway in earnest. But I do think they could put some dents in Trump's armor on the trail. That is great news for DeSantis, who is the clear runner-up to Trump right now and needs him to slide to have a chance.

On the other hand, the great news for Trump is the simple math of it: Two more candidates just entered the race. Before all this started, all anyone could talk about was how a large GOP field would benefit Trump. Now that candidates are announcing over and over, we seem to be focusing on the bios and tactics of the candidates and losing sight of just how favorable the field is for Trump. It is very, very favorable. As Karen Townsend wrote in Hot Air, the champagne corks are undoubtedly popping in Mar-a-Lago.

Why is a large field good for Trump? Because his biggest threat is DeSantis, and in a primary, DeSantis is very unlikely to pull off a huge chunk of Trump loyalists — which means he needs to vacuum up as many "open" GOP voters as possible. Now he has to compete for those votes with a former vice president (Pence) and someone who has already proven himself to be much better than he is at attacking Trump (Christie). And that's on top of Scott, Haley, Burgum, Ramaswamy, and Hutchinson.

For Trump, this is the perfect scenario. It seriously reduces the odds of any splashy stumbles in early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, and it gives him a path to simply hold onto 40% of the GOP vote and glide to a primary win. If none of these candidates bails before Iowa, the simple math adds up to a net win for the Trump camp.

New video!

We have a fresh new YouTube video up! In our first ever YouTube interview, I sat down with Michael Dorf and Neil Buchanan to discuss their argument that we should ignore (and ultimately do away with) the debt ceiling. Dorf and Buchanan both come at the issue from the left of center, but I thought they made some compelling points that progressives and fiscal conservatives can get behind. You can watch the interview now:

Your questions, answered.

Q: I know you've addressed gerrymandering in the past, but I wonder what you think of this piece in The Hill (link) suggesting that the solution is use of "proportional multi-member districts." Can you explain how that would work in practice?

— Jeff from Long Beach, California

Tangle: First of all, thanks for cueing me up to reference my prior work on gerrymandering. In a subscribers-only post from earlier this year, I talk at length about gerrymandering — why it exists, why it's a problem on both sides of the aisle, and the different ways to solve it. The short story is that gerrymandering results in our politicians choosing their electors instead of the other way around, and it is now widely detested. Gerrymandering is opposed by 9 in 10 Americans.

We've come up with a lot of proposed solutions, but enacting them has been a lot harder. In my piece, I said “If I had to rank [solutions], I'd put multi-member districts at the top of my list." Essentially, multi-member districts would just be larger districts with more representatives elected through ranked-choice voting (like the system Alaska used last year). There is a bill in the House right now that defines these districts as having three to five representatives, in states that currently have six or more. This would make districts harder to gerrymander, as second and third choices would often come from minority parties.

I do have a major qualm with the proposal you linked to, however. It's not that smaller states wouldn't see any change. And it's not that districts would become larger, diluting a representative's relationship with their electorate. Those are real issues, but I can live with them. My problem is that I honestly don't know what the authors are proposing, because they just never really define what they mean by "proportional."

There are several "proportional" systems out there; so do they mean a system like the European parliament, New Zealand's mixed-member proportional system, or Australia's single transferable vote? Or do they just mean ranked-choice multimember districts, like the ones already proposed?

How "multi-member districts" work in practice is pretty easy to explain — fairvote.org does a great job. Unfortunately, to explain how "proportional multi-member districts" would work, you'd have to ask the contributing authors at The Hill about the specifics of their plan.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

A prolific cyber crime gang believed to be based in Russia is attempting to blackmail BBC News, British Airways, and the beauty and pharmacy company Boots. The group has apparently gained access to the payroll data of over 100,000 staff across the three companies and several other firms. Now, it has contacted the companies, demanding a ransom to keep the data private. The hackers, who operate under the name Clop, purportedly found a way to break into the popular business software called MOVEit to access the data. BBC News has the story.


  • 53.2%. The share of the primary vote that currently favors Donald Trump in the latest RealClearPolitics average of polls.
  • 22.4%. The share of the primary vote that currently favors Ron DeSantis in the latest RealClearPolitics average of polls.
  • 4.4%. The share of the primary vote that currently favors Nikki Haley in the latest RealClearPolitics average of polls.
  • 3.8%. The share of the primary vote that currently favors Mike Pence in the latest RealClearPolitics average of polls.
  • 2.6%. The share of the primary vote that currently favors Vivek Ramaswamy in the latest RealClearPolitics average of polls.
  • 1.6%. The share of the primary vote that currently favors Tim Scott in the latest RealClearPolitics average of polls.
  • 1.0%. The share of the primary vote that currently favors Chris Christie in the latest RealClearPolitics average of polls.

The extras.

Have a nice day.

Parents of young children with severe peanut allergies may be getting some relief in the future, thanks to promising research out of Chicago. A global phase 3 clinical trial found that a year-long immunotherapy through a skin patch safely desensitized toddlers with a peanut allergy, lowering the risk of a severe allergic reaction from accidental exposure. Peanut allergies currently affect 2% of children in the U.S., Canada, and other western countries, and frequently persist into adulthood. At the moment, there are no available treatments for children under the age of 4. Melanie Makhija, the Principal Investigator of the study at Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago, thinks this new skin patch could change that. "Children who originally reacted to a small fraction of a peanut were able to tolerate the equivalent of one to four peanuts after completing the treatment course," Makhija said. "This is terrific news for families of kids with peanut allergies." Science Daily 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.