Before Donald Trump selected Mike Pence to be his Vice Presidential Runningmate, Pence was locked in a tight race to retain his job as Indiana Governor, sporting job approval ratings of under 50 percent.
If Pence had run for re-election and lost, his expiration date as a viable Presidential candidate would likely have passed. On the other hand, if Pence had won re-election, and if Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump were to lose his Presidential bid, Pence would be one of a litany of potential Republican Presidential candidates seeking his party's 2020 nomination.
If this were the scenario, Pence would have to spend at least two years balancing his job as Governor with his Presidential campaign. If his subpar job approval ratings were to sustain, he would face an embarrassing backlash at home like then Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal did in 2016.
Pence is now in the electoral Catbird Seat. The GOP is split asunder between the establishment and insurrectionist bloodlines. Establishment Republicans have either disassociated themselves from Trump or are distancing themselves from the insurrectionist nominee. Contrariwise, Trump supporters are vociferous adherents of the real estate mogul's message, and are indignant at the establishment for not being four square for Trump.
Should Trump lose his Presidential bid, Pence is the only candidate who can bridge the internecine divide in the GOP to become the consensus GOP candidate in 2020. While Pence was one of the most conservative members of the GOP during his 12-year stint in the U.S. House of Representatives, he won the support of many establishment Republicans, being elected as Chairman of the House Republicans Caucus.
Like most establishment Republicans, Pence voted for the authorization for the use of force in Iraq, supported NAFTA, and even called for "a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas." In addition, Pence believes that if Russia "continues to be involved in this barbaric attack on civilians in Aleppo, the United States of America should be prepared to use military force to strike military targets of the (Syrian President Basher al-) Assad regime."
These positions are divergent from Trump, making Pence palatable to establishment Republicans.
After Trump was caught on tape speaking of women in sexually explicit terms, many establishment Republicans reached their boiling point and unendorsed Trump. Some Republicans, like U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne of Alabama, called for Trump to "step aside and allow Governor Pence to lead the Republican ticket."
Trump's influence on the GOP will not likely be ephemeral. Come the 2020 Presidential cycle, the more than 14 million voters who selected Trump in the GOP Primary will likely frown upon potential candidates like Ohio Governor John Kasich who did not endorse Trump, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who disinvited him to a campaign event, and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) who spoke at the party's national Convention imploring voters "to vote your conscience" rather than singing Trump's accolades.
These voters will likely see Pence as the logical heir apparent to the Trump mantra and will award him for his fidelity to Trump. Based on his recent debate performance, the GOP establishment garners a propitious view of Pence. If Trump loses in November, few Republicans will blame Pence. The argument might even be made that Pence could have won the election if he were at the top of the ticket.
There is a similitude between Pence and Richard M. Nixon. Nixon was the epitome of the moderate Republican Establishment. In 1960, then Vice President Nixon made a deal with New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the titular head of the party's liberal wing, adding language to the GOP platform sympathetic to Rockefeller in return for his unequivocal endorsement. U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), a leading voice with conservatives, branded the agreement "the Munich of the Republican Party." The agreement, labeled "The Treaty of Fifth Avenue," infuriated some conservatives. Nixon lost that election in a squeaker.
By 1964, the insurrectionist wing became ascendant, as conservative flamethrower Barry Goldwater wrested the party's nomination. The party's establishment feared a Goldwater nomination. That year, Rockefeller ran against him in the primary and sent out a mailer asking: "Who do you want in the room with the H Bomb Button?"
Goldwater made little effort to mitigate his rhetoric, offering his candidacy as "a choice not an echo." He horrified the party's high command by exclaiming at his party's convention: "Let me remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me also remind you that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."
After he secured the nomination, potential nominees for 1968 abandoned Goldwater. Rockefeller and Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton, who both lost the 1964 nomination, did not endorse Goldwater.
Michigan Governor George Romney stated that he "accepted" Goldwater's nomination but would not "endorse him." In his own re-election bid, Romney's campaign mailed out about 200,000 mock ballots showing voters how to mark their ballots for Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson for President and Romney for Governor.
Nixon however became a resolute supporter of Goldwater. He even gave the speech at the Republican National Convention nominating Goldwater and became a Goldwater surrogate on the campaign trail. Nixon held the Goldwater banner high, singing Goldwater's' praises across the country. This gained Nixon respect and admiration from insurrectionists who had viewed him with suspicion.
After Goldwater suffered a seismic defeat, both establishment and insurrectionist Republicans spoke of a Nixon nomination in 1968. The establishment wanted a mainstream figure and looked back fondly on Nixon, believing he deserved another chance. Insurrectionists grew inflamed with those Republicans who did not support Goldwater in 1964, and were grateful that Nixon did not bow to political pressure and distance himself from Goldwater.
Goldwater himself showed his gratitude by endorsing Nixon for the 1968 nomination as early as 1965. Nixon spent much of 1966 on the hustings, campaigning for Republican Congressional candidates of all ideological persuasions, earning political chits.
Nixon was awarded with the nomination in 1968, soundly defeating Rockefeller and Romney who had alienated the insurrectionists by not endorsing Goldwater in 1964. Nixon was the consensus candidate, winning support of both GOP establishmentarians and insurrectionist voters.
Should Trump lose the upcoming election, Pence would be wise to follow a strategy similar to the one employed by Nixon. Like Nixon, he will not be constrained by a full-time job. He can spend 2018 campaigning for Republican candidates across the nation, collecting IOU's, and keeping his name in the news. By 2020, he could become the one candidate to win support from both bloodlines of the Republican Party, ultimately winning the nomination.