“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” — President Theodore Roosevelt

I have thought of that quote as I watch former Vice President Mike Pence navigate the choppy waters of the 2024 presidential campaign. Pence was a think tank leader and talk show host in Indiana. He got elected to Congress and revitalized the Republican Study Committee as an institution for conservative energy in the House of Representatives. He became governor of Indiana.

When Donald Trump ran for president and needed a conservative’s conservative to calm and reassure both the right of the GOP and the evangelical movement, he chose Pence. For four years, Pence whispered in Trump’s ear, provided counsel and smoothed over various tempests. On Jan. 6, 2021, as activists stormed the United States Capitol, some looking to hang the vice president for what they felt was a betrayal, Pence held to conviction and chose the Constitution over power. Our nation owes Pence thanks for being the man in the arena that day.

On Jan. 20, 2021, as the former president headed to Florida, his vice president stayed behind to welcome in the new president and assist the peaceful transition of power. The republic endured because providence has put up men like Pence over time to be there at the right moment.

Over the past months, Pence has sought to defend the conservatism of conservatives who seem left in the wake of a populist movement more founded upon cults of personalities than big ideas. He did not back down to Tucker Carlson in Iowa as Pence defended a robust foreign policy with American leadership at the forefront of the fight for freedom. That earned him a selective edit and attack from Trump supporters.

Carlson informed Pence that Pence’s concern was Ukraine, and his concern was not American cities. Pence replied, “That’s not my concern.” He meant Ukraine, but those of malicious will towards him framed it as Pence referencing American cities. A few days later, a video surfaced online of a businessman on Long Island, New York, walking in a parade. A girl hit him in the head with a water balloon. It was not Pence, but the internet became convinced it was. Still, the man has soldiered on with his integrity intact.

Unfortunately, that integrity has come with animosity. Trump supporters hate Pence because he, like everyone else who does not supplicate themselves to Trump, is perceived as disloyal. Trump opponents hate Pence because Pence served as Trump’s vice president. Some evangelicals, who preach grace and forgiveness, hold a grudge against Pence for, as governor of Indiana, abandoning religious freedom legislation under pressure from business interests.

The man in the arena has made mistakes, erred, come up short, is marred by dust and sweat and has tried valiantly to both do the right thing and defend life, liberty and basic American common sense. He deserves a place on the Republican debate stage but has struggled to raise money. A man of middle-class means, he cannot bribe voters as others have.

If Pence cannot raise money from enough donors soon, the former vice president will be denied a place on the debate stage and conservatives will be denied the voice of a man who has served as a good conscience for their movement. It will be conservatives’ loss, not his.
To find out more about Erick Erickson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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