As former President Donald Trump teased his political comeback to conservatives last weekend, his one-time wingman, ex-Vice President Mike Pence, was nowhere to be found.
While Mr. Trump was accepting the adulation of attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference, his speech lacked any mention of Mr. Pence.
Mr. Pence didn’t attend the gathering, reportedly declining an invitation to speak. And activists didn’t seem to miss him very much, relegating him to a 1% showing in The Washington Times-CPAC’s straw poll test of potential 2024 presidential candidates.
A month after the vice president left office, CPAC suggests there is, at best, a ho-hum feeling about Mr. Pence’s future in GOP politics.
“There was no point for him to show up — he would have got booed,” said a former Trump 2020 adviser.
Saul Anuzis, president of the 60 Plus Association and former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, said it would have been “way too early” for Mr. Pence to reemerge at CPAC.
“This is still Trump’s movement,” Mr. Anuzis said. “I think Pence is playing his cards right, laying low while some of the controversy around him settles down.”
But he cautioned against underestimating Mr. Pence, saying time is on his side.
“He served Trump well and has a deep level of commitment from a broad range of politicos,” Mr. Anuzis said.
Mr. Pence’s team says the former vice president has spoken with Mr. Trump numerous times since leaving office on Jan. 20 and that both sides have initiated contact.
Mr. Pence has maintained a low profile since leaving office, focusing his attention on his family and his partnerships with the Heritage Foundation and Young America’s Foundation.
Last week Mr. Pence was in Charleston, South Carolina, to participate in a question and answer session with the Bradley Foundation and had more discussions with the Young America’s Foundation about a podcast it is preparing to launch.
The former vice president and former member of the House plans to play a role in helping House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy flip control of the lower chamber in 2022. And he plans to be involved in Senate and gubernatorial races over the coming election cycles.
They said Mr. Pence’s overarching goal is to merge the Make America Great Agenda with the traditional conservative values that he has championed throughout his career.
His time away from the spotlight comes after serving as one of Mr. Trump’s fiercest defenders over the last four years.
Mr. Pence, a Christian conservative, was masterful in softening the sting of the president’s sharp political elbows.
But things went sour as Mr. Trump pursued his claims of election fraud, even urging Mr. Pence to take the unprecedented step as a vice president of refusing to allow Congress to certify the Electoral College vote.
“If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election,” the president told his followers.
The move was widely considered to be far outside the bounds of Mr. Pence’s powers — and the former vice president came to the same conclusion.
The rest is history: A pro-Trump mob, some chanting “hang Mike Pence,” stormed the Capitol in protest. Members of the Secret Service had to rush Mr. Pence to safety.
Democrats on Capitol Hill then urged Mr. Pence to try to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office, but the vice president refused.
Among Mr. Trump’s backers, though, the damage was done.
Mr. Pence is now being lumped in with the likes of Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and others in the party who criticized Mr. Trump’s role in inciting the violence at the Capitol and who refused to support the 45th president’s allegations of a rigged election.
CPAC attendee Jill Quentzel, a political activist and former broadcaster who lives in Florida, said the grassroots are mystified with the willingness of GOP leaders to break with Mr. Trump.
“We don’t understand a lot of what is going on,” she said. “Same with McConnell, with Pence, with Supreme Court Justice [John] Roberts.”
Mr. Trump, meanwhile, got the golden god treatment at CPAC, where he was showered Sunday with cheers and chants of “USA! USA!” when he took the CPAC stage.
Mr. Trump slammed his GOP critics.
He also paid tribute to recently deceased conservative radio giant Rush Limbaugh and his wife Kathryn. He thanked American Conservative Union Chair Matt Schlapp and singled out Republicans for praise, including former President Ronald Reagan and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.
The 90-minute speech didn’t include anything about Mr. Pence.
In the Times-CPAC straw poll, Mr. Pence came in 10th, with 1% support, in a hypothetical race that included Mr. Trump, who garnered 55.3%. Mr. Pence also trailed the likes of Govs. Ron DeSantis of Florida at 20.5%, Kristi Noem of South Dakota at 4.4%, and even Fox News host Tucker Carlson at 1.3%.
In a second question that didn’t include Mr. Trump, Mr. Pence did slightly better percentage-wise, getting 1.4% support — though he fell to 11th in the lineup, still trailing Mr. DeSantis, Ms. Noem, Mr. Carlson and even two of Mr. Trump’s children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump.