By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – As the smirking Donald Trump finally gave Mike Pence his deliverance at the late, late hour of 11 a.m. July 15, 2016, tweeting that he was anointing the Indiana governor to his longshot ticket, I channeled Rod Serling:

“This is a portrait of an exposed governor named Mike Pence, who feeds off his self delusion, who finds himself perpetually hungry for greatness in his diet. He searches for something which explains his hunger and why the world passes him by without saluting. It is something he looks for and finds at a national convention, in his twisted and distorted lexicon he calls it faith, strength and truth. But in just a moment Mike Pence will ply his trade on another kind of corner, at the strange intersection we call the twilight zone.”

Pence has found his political twilight zone, coming to a head during the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection. Unless you’re an ardent supporter of Trump and back his efforts to undermine the American election process and the Electoral College, you know that Vice President Pence ended up doing the right thing, refusing in the final days to participate in Trump’s coup d’etat.

But his deal with the devil – often described as Pence’s “Faustian bargain” – is starting to come into focus.

Trump has expressed distinct disdain for his former sidekick, as the recent spate of books reveals. And there will be even more books and documentaries about the chaotic end of the Trump presidency over the year or so when more of the same will come to the surface.

Pence was heckled at a Family Leadership conference in Florida last month with calls of “traitor.” And during an appearance at a Sioux City, Iowa GOP event last weekend, he earned this dubious Politico headline: “Pence flatlines as 2024 field takes shape.”

The quotes in reporter David Siders’ story were devastating. “Who?” asked Doug Gross, a former chief of staff to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad when asked about Pence’s chances in 2024.

“It’s just, where would you place him?” Gross continued. “With Trumpsters, he didn’t perform when they really wanted him to perform, so he’s DQ’d there. Then you go to the evangelicals, they have plenty of other choices.”

And there was this merciless quote from Scott County Republican vice chair Raymond Harre: “I don’t imagine he’d have a whole lot of support. There are some Trump supporters who think he’s the Antichrist.”

Harre said Pence “did a good job as vice president,” and he called the vitriol directed at him “kind of nutty.” Still, he said, “I don’t see him overcoming the negatives.”

And this from Sean Walsh, a GOP strategist who worked in the Reagan and Bush41 White Houses: “He’s got to justify to the Trumpistas why he isn’t Judas Iscariot, and then he’s got to demonstrate to a bunch of other Republicans why he hung out with someone they perceive to be a nutjob.”

There are signs that Twilight Zone realities are sinking into Pence World. Former gubernatorial chief of staff Bill Smith has closed the DC office he opened in 2017 to reap the financial advantages of Pence’s veep orbit.

Pence is plodding ahead, going through the 2024 motions while laying out “policy markers” for a national race.

But as I observed in July 2016: “A spot on the ticket is not a slam dunk for success for the Indiana governor. Vice presidential nominees on tickets losing in a landslide often find themselves sliding into political oblivion. Jack Kemp, Joe Lieberman, Sarah Palin, Geraldine Ferraro, and Sargent Shriver never became presidential-level power houses. A Trump/Pence victory certainly would place Pence into the vice presidential realm, though Walter Mondale, Dan Quayle and Al Gore never reached the White House on their own.”

While Pence has moved back to Indiana, buying a Carmel mansion for $1.9 million and has a book deal with Simon & Shuster, his political options are getting scarce. Pence has turned his back on Indiana, except for an occasional fundraiser.

HPI asked several Hoosier Republican insiders if Pence could to revive his career in Indiana, as Richard Nixon did in California two years after losing the 1960 presidential race, and the consensus isn’t promising. Could Pence win a 2024 U.S. Senate race, if Mike Braun decides to run for governor?

No, particularly if Trump were to endorse Gov. Holcomb or Attorney General Todd Rokita. It would take a grand clearing of the field for that to happen, and the dominant Indiana GOP is teeming with ambitious fresh faces.

The next two years where the 2024 presidential race will gradually be coming into focus is an eternity in politics. Right now the 2024 presidential nomination is Donald Trump’s for the taking. He has a cult-like following with the 25-35% of the GOP who would decide the primary cycle. Trump can keep the field narrow ... unless he’s indicted and convicted on tax fraud charges in New York (a la Capone) or election fraud charges in Georgia or Arizona.

Pence’s brightest prospects appear to be to write his two books and hope the Trump fever subsides. He could follow the Nixon playbook over the next three election cycles, and hope that an element of redemption comes into play in 2026, positioning him for 2028.

The potential pitfall there is whether a Ron DeSantis or another Republican rising star becomes the next big thing. 

Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @hwypol.