The third night of the convention belonged to Vice President Mike Pence. The former governor of Indiana has spent four years in the shadow of President Trump, and Wednesday evening's address was an opportunity for him to make the case for a second term directly to the viewing public. Out of all the talks this week, Pence's most closely resembled one you might have heard at a pre-coronavirus convention. He touted the administration's record from an outdoor stage at Fort McHenry, and before a live audience that was eager to applaud. The scene couldn't have been more different from the empty hall where Kamala Harris spoke last week.
It wasn't just the setting that recalled an earlier time. Mike Pence hails from the pre-Trump conservative wing of the Republican Party, and his manner of speech, line of argument, and method of delivery would have fit right in at the 2012 or 2008 conventions. Indeed, it was Pence's very conventionality that made him attractive to Trump as a running mate four years ago. "We came by very different routes to this partnership, and some people think we're a little bit different," the vice president joked Tuesday. Later, Pence said of his boss, "He's certainly kept things interesting. But more important, President Donald Trump has kept his word to the American people."
Staid, dependable, calm, and reassuring, Pence hit all the marks. He mentioned the Americans in danger from Hurricane Laura, he discussed the terrible toll of the coronavirus, he invoked law and order, he drew contrasts between Trump and Biden, and he cast the election as a choice that will determine the future: "To bring America all the way back, we need four more years of Donald Trump in the White House."
Four more years of Donald Trump are also critical to Pence's future. One of the subplots of this convention has been the emerging 2024 Republican field. Nikki Haley, Donald Trump Jr., and Mike Pompeo all made the case for the president, while also subtly introducing (or re-introducing) themselves to Republican voters. As Trump's vice president, Pence is the frontrunner to succeed him as leader of the GOP. Winning reelection would boost that status. He doesn't want to be another Walter Mondale.
During Fox's coverage, Chris Wallace mentioned that the Trump-Pence relationship is often compared to the Reagan-Bush partnership. Reagan and Trump were both insurgents who selected members of the party establishment to balance the ticket. Bush was able to ride the wave of the Reagan presidency to his own presidential term. It's safe to say Pence would like to do the same. He seized the moment Wednesday. Now he has to make it last.