When former President Donald Trump was asked to list those he considers the future leaders of the Republican Party, he rattled off a list of names, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. Conspicuously absent from the list: Mike Pence.
The former vice president is steadily re-entering public life as he eyes a potential run for the White House in 2024. He’s joining conservative organisations, writing op-eds, delivering speeches and launching an advocacy group that will focus on promoting the Trump administration’s accomplishments.
But Mr Trump’s neglect in mentioning Mr Pence during a podcast interview earlier this month signals the former vice president’s unique challenge.
For someone who built a reputation as one of Mr Trump’s most steadfast supporters, Mr Pence is now viewed with suspicion among many Republicans for observing his constitutional duty in January to facilitate a peaceful transfer of power to the Biden administration, a decision that still has Mr Trump fuming.
To prevail in a Republican presidential primary, Mr Pence may have to reinforce his loyalty to Mr Trump while defending his decisions during the final days of the administration when the president falsely alleged voter fraud, contributing to a deadly riot at the US Capitol.
If anyone can achieve this awkward balance, some Republicans say it’s Mr Pence.
“Anybody who can pull off an endorsement of Ted Cruz and become Donald Trump’s vice presidential nominee should not be counted out,” said Republican strategist Alice Stewart.
Allies argue that, over time, the anger toward him will subside.
“I think 2024 is a long time away and if Mike Pence runs for president he will appeal to the Republican base in a way that will make him a strong contender,” said Republican Representative Jim Banks of Indiana.
“If and when Mike Pence steps back up to the plate, I think he will have strong appeal among Republicans nationwide.”
Mr Pence declined to comment for this story. For their part, Trump aides warn against reading too much into the omission during the podcast interview.
“That was not an exclusive list,” said Trump adviser Jason Miller. Mr Trump has not said whether he will seek the White House again in 2024.