Former Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday dropped his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, ending his campaign for the White House after struggling to raise money and gain traction in the polls.
“It’s become clear to me: This is not my time,” Pence said at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s (RJC) annual gathering in Las Vegas.
“So after much prayer and deliberation, I have decided to suspend my campaign for president effective today.”
“We always knew this would be an uphill battle, but I have no regrets,” Pence went on to tell the friendly audience, which reacted with audible surprise to the announcement and gave him multiple standing ovations.
Pence is the first major candidate to leave a race that has been dominated by his former boss-turned-rival, Donald Trump, and his struggles underscore just how much Trump has transformed the party. A former vice president would typically be seen as a formidable challenger in any primary, but Pence has struggled to find a base of support.
It was unclear which, if any, candidates would benefit from Pence’s departure, given his limited support. But those hoping to see the party move on from the former president welcomed the news as a step towards consolidating around a single Trump alternative.
Pence did not endorse any of his rivals on Saturday but continued to echo language he has used to criticise Trump.
“I urge all my fellow Republicans here, give our country a Republican standard-bearer that will, as Lincoln said, appeal to the better angels of our nature,” he said, “and not only lead us to victory, but lead our nation with civility back to the time-honoured principles that have always made America strong and prosperous and free.”
Trump, who spoke shortly after Pence at the RJC event, did not acknowledge his former vice president’s announcement on stage, but said on Saturday night at a separate event in Las Vegas that he believed Pence owed him his support.
“He should endorse me. I chose him, made him vice president. But people in politics can be very disloyal,” he said.
A huge blow
Pence’s decision, more than two months before the Iowa caucuses that he had staked his campaign on, saves him from accumulating additional debt, as well as the embarrassment of potentially failing to qualify for the third Republican primary debate, on November 8 in Miami.
The Republican leader ended September with just $1.18m in the bank and $621,000 in debt, according to his most recent campaign filing. That debt had grown in the weeks since and adding to it could have taken Pence, who is not independently wealthy, years to pay off.
His withdrawal is a huge blow for a politician who spent years biding his time as Trump’s most loyal lieutenant, only to be scapegoated during their final days in office when Trump became convinced that Pence somehow had the power to overturn the results of the 2020 election and keep both men in office – which he did not.
While Pence averted a constitutional crisis by rejecting the scheme, he drew Trump’s fury, as well as the wrath of many of Trump’s supporters, who still believed his lies about the election and saw Pence as a traitor.
Among Trump critics, meanwhile, Pence was seen as an enabler who defended the former president at every turn and refused to criticise even Trump’s most indefensible actions.
As a result, an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research from August found that the majority of US adults, 57 percent, viewed Pence negatively, with only 28 percent having a positive view.
The Republican leader had been betting on Iowa, a state with a large white Evangelical population that has a long history of elevating religious and socially conservative candidates such as former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Rick Santorum.
He often campaigned with his wife, Karen, a Christian school teacher, and emphasised his hardline views on issues such as abortion, which he opposes even in cases when a pregnancy is unviable. He repeatedly called on his fellow candidates to support a minimum 15-week national ban and he pushed to ban drugs used as alternatives to surgical procedures.
But the former US vice president struggled to gain traction even in Iowa.