Pompeo gearing up for White House run in 2024, say political pundits

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a press conference in Denmark in July. He was for a time considered a candidate for the Kansas Senate seat but did not run, and has in private conversations implied that he is waiting for something bigger in 2024.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a press conference in Denmark in July. He was for a time considered a candidate for the Kansas Senate seat but did not run, and has in private conversations implied that he is waiting for something bigger in 2024. Analysts say he is trying to cement his credentials now.PHOTO: REUTERS

There is a growing understanding among political pundits that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is positioning himself for a run at the White House in 2024.

Mr Pompeo is more a hardliner than a diplomat on national security issues, and has come to be seen as President Donald Trump's most powerful ally.

Those who know him have little doubt about his political ambition, which he implies in private conversations, former diplomats say.

Mr Pompeo's recent theatrical appearance at the Republican National Convention - beaming in from a rooftop in Jerusalem to support Mr Trump - was both loaded with symbolism and unprecedented for a secretary of state, and only supported the speculation.

Last week, he made a major speech in Wisconsin, on the administration's China policy.

While making foreign policy speeches to domestic audiences is not unusual - especially in a system in which states have their own relationships with foreign buyers and investors - such speeches also help to keep him visible domestically.

"He is violating every norm by campaigning while he is secretary of state," said a former diplomat, who spoke to The Sunday Times on condition of anonymity.

"It's very clear that he is running in 2024 and he wants to make sure he can be seen as President Donald Trump's successor.

"He will have to face Vice-President Mike Pence and (former US ambassador to the United Nations) Nikki Haley, and is trying to position himself."

In May, the New York Times reported that Mr Pompeo made a quiet trip in January to a Florida retirement enclave populated by prominent Republican donors during the tail end of a diplomatic trip to Latin America.

He had a similarly quiet meeting last December with Republican donors over a dinner on a State Department trip to London, the paper reported.

And last October, he met Republican billionaire and long-time supporter Charles Koch while on an official visit to Kansas, his home state.

He was for a time considered a candidate for the Kansas Senate seat but did not run, and has in private conversations implied that he is waiting for something bigger in 2024.

He is trying to cement his credentials, analysts say.

"People who work with him are saying the reason he wants an Afghanistan solution is he can take credit for it, because he has otherwise not been particularly successful," said the former diplomat who spoke to ST.

"The recent agreements between Israel and Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates were not his achievements. They were Jared Kushner's."

Mr Kushner, the President's son-in-law, was put in charge of making peace in the Middle East.

Under Mr Pompeo, however, diplomacy has "shrivelled", Dr Robert Manning, resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Scowcroft Centre for Strategy and Security, told ST.

Morale in the State Department is "down in the dumps", a former State Department official said on condition of anonymity.

Several major posts remain vacant under a trimming exercise not entirely due to Mr Pompeo, who took over in 2018. It was started by his predecessor Rex Tillerson.

Mr Pompeo is mindful of his constituency. He keeps an open Bible in his office, marked at the page he has read that day.

"I need my mind renewed with truth each day," he told an audience of the American Association of Christian Counsellors in a speech last October.

The former diplomat source said: "Like all politicians who want to cultivate a religious political base, he wants to show his religiosity."

Mr Pompeo also believes in the "rapture" - a belief of some evangelical Christians that there will be an apocalyptic war, Jesus will return and true Christians will be raptured or ascend to heaven.

Mr Pompeo has time on his side - he is only 56. And he has a powerful resume. He graduated at the top of his class at West Point, was a tank officer in Europe, went to Harvard Law School, launched a successful aerospace business and got elected to Congress in 2010 from Kansas as a Tea Party Republican.

For more than a year, before President Trump appointed him secretary of state, Mr Pompeo ran the Central Intelligence Agency.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 27, 2020, with the headline 'Pompeo gearing up for White House run in 2024, say political pundits'. Print Edition | Subscribe