For 30 years after Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the Republican Party sought in vain for a replacement for him. It was only after they stumbled across Donald Trump that they realized what they had been looking for was someone who had the most important and essential qualities of Reagan — an ability to be direct about the failings of government and a willingness to do something about those failings — not an actual copy of the man.
That’s important as Republicans wander toward 2024. In the likely event that Mr. Trump decides to forego running again, the party will need someone who can capture his best traits and avoid his worst ones.
The party also will need someone who can weave together its various components.
That might be a challenge. Depending on which polling you believe, the party is split evenly between the Trump and traditional factions or the Trump faction has a decided (although not overwhelming) advantage.
It is probably more likely than not that the Trump faction has an advantage for the moment, but as the former president fades from the center ring of American politics, and as some of his favored candidates lose in 2022 (as is bound to happen), that advantage probably will wane a bit.
The most interesting recent survey results indicate that if Mr. Trump does not run, former Vice President Mike Pence would start with a clear advantage over his many rivals.
For instance, a recent Harvard Harris poll found that without Mr. Trump in the race, 36% of self-identified independent and Republican registered voters would vote for Mr. Pence for the nomination. The next nearest candidate was Texas Sen. Ted Cruz with 13%.
Similarly, an Echelon Insights survey found that 21% of self-identified Republican voters would vote for Mr. Pence for the nomination, twice his nearest competitor (again, Mr. Cruz at 10%). Interestingly, the survey split Trump voters and traditional Republican voters, and Mr. Pence led among both groups, getting 17% of Trump voters and 26% of Republican voters.
That suggests that he, at the moment, is the leading fusion candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.
Finally, Fabrizio Lee’s more recent survey of 1,264 registered Republican voters also placed Mr. Pence as the top choice (19%) of Republicans if the former president chooses not to run.
In short, as Mr. Trump’s supporters and other Republicans start to think about what comes next, many are more than comfortable with the idea of Mr. Pence as the nominee.
There are some who want every Republican, including Mr. Pence, to be more vocal in opposing everything that President Biden does. Until 2017, however, it was commonplace and considered a matter of courtesy to give one’s successor a moment or two to get his administration off the ground. That time also is important to allow those exiting office to transition a bit, reconnect with family and friends, and get their own feet set correctly.
In campaigns, it is important to define the differences between yourself and your rivals. Mr. Pence is a son of the Midwest — direct, devout, driven by common sense, and willing to fight for what is right. He is not now and will not be Mr. Trump, and that’s fine.
The Republicans should not spend the next 30 years looking for someone like Mr. Trump; there isn’t anyone like him. They should, however, spend the next few years looking for someone who can carry on the work that Mr. Trump started.
Right now, more than a handful of people believe Mr. Pence is that man.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.