Until Trump picked him as a running mate, Pence seemed an almost perfect expression of generic, post–Ronald Reagan Republicanism. He was a devout Christian, and sought to inject more religion into schools and government, but in most other respects he was a small-government crusader. He wanted trade free, taxes low, entitlements slashed, and (at least ostensibly) deficits minded. Pence had been a talk-radio host at one time, but since 2001, he’d been in the House and then the Indiana governor’s mansion. He was the Republican establishment.
Pence did not run for president in 2016—in fact, his career in Indiana seemed to be foundering—but his worldview was amply represented in the Republican primary, and resoundingly defeated by Trump. The eventual GOP nominee railed against free trade, promised to preserve entitlements, and was manifestly irreligious, even as he catered to evangelical voters’ views on abortion. (He is said to privately mock Pence’s faith.) That was just what Republican voters wanted, it turned out.
Read: Pence in the wings
In the 2016 race, Pence served to shore up some of Trump’s weaknesses with reluctant Republicans. This cycle, his role is less clear. He has been an unswerving sycophant publicly, but Trump has now reshaped the Republican Party in his own image, leaving less room for Pence’s views, although the president has also abandoned his fidelity to preserving entitlements. What the GOP will look like after Trump is an open question. He is in some ways sui generis, but young Republicans, including Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, and Ted Cruz, have begun searching for ways to formulate a Trumpism without Trump. A Pence 2024 run seems likely regardless of the result in November, but it is difficult to imagine his brand of conservatism triumphing.
Democrats, too, are striving to figure out what the future of their party looks like. Few of them seem to believe that Biden, an aging understudy of the last Democratic president, is the prototype. That includes Biden, who in March described himself as a “bridge” to younger leaders in the party. Some Democrats felt there was no need for a transition period, including Harris, who ran for president against Biden in 2020. But the young Democrats in the race were all resoundingly beaten, just like the traditional Republicans in the 2016 primary. The runner-up was Bernie Sanders, whose politics are more in line with those of the young progressives, but whose age is not. And atop the heap was Joe Biden, a Washington fixture and Democratic weather vane for nearly half a century.
Read: How far left have the Democrats moved?
Nonetheless, Harris is still aiming to represent the Democratic future. She has abandoned the more centrist leanings of her earlier career. Stressing her heritage (both Black and Asian), her geography (San Francisco, not Scranton), and her policies, she has sought to capture the new wave of Democrats. She put forward a Medicare for All plan to the right of Sanders but the left of Biden. She has supported decriminalizing border crossings, marijuana legalization, and the Green New Deal. These shifts were not enough to win the affection of the party’s left wing, though they might serve as a bridge of their own between Biden Democrats and the progressives.