Former President Donald Trump remains the single most popular figure in the Republican Party after two years out of power. But the notoriously mercurial president is known for his intolerance of betrayal and a potential rival for a 2024 White House run is slowly emerging; former Vice President Mike Pence. 

On Monday, the New York Times published an interview where Pence, a former governor of Indiana with strong support in the socially conservative wing of the party, did not rule out the possibility of challenging Trump in the next presidential election. 

“We’ll go where we’re called,” Pence said, adding that he and his wife Karen would make a final decision through prayer.

By refusing to bow out of the running for the Republican nomination, Pence has made his biggest move to break from Trump. The ex-president’s team was quick to notice and equally ready to belittle the prospect of a Pence challenge to Trump in the next election. 

In a statement, Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich mocked what he described as Pence's quest to "chase his lost relevance" and said that his political standing today is thanks to his proximity to Trump. 

“Mike Pence was set to lose a governor’s race in 2016 before he was plucked up and his political career was salvaged,” Budowich told the New York Times. "Now, desperate to chase his lost relevance, Pence is parachuting into races, hoping someone is paying attention. The reality is, President Trump is already 82-3 with his endorsements, and there’s nothing stopping him from saving America in 2022 and beyond."

Donald Trump, Mike Pence President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence arrive on stage at the Chairman's Global Dinner, at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, in Washington, D.C., Jan. 17, 2017. Photo: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

The two men’s strained relationship is an open secret among political operatives and pundits, most notably because of Pence’s refusal to “de-certify” the results of the 2020 presidential race that saw Trump defeated by now-President Joe Biden. 

Pence has defended his action as the constitutionally correct action, but it was interpreted by Trump and his circle as the ultimate betrayal. The former vice president later said Trump was “wrong” to suggest he could ever stop the certification of the 2020 race.

For his part, Trump has not been shy about the distance between him and Pence. In an interview in March, Trump said that he has not spoken to Pence in a “long time” and suggested that Pence would not be considered a contender to be his vice president again if he runs in 2024. 

The two have also delivered competing endorsements throughout the 2022 midterm races. In the upcoming Georgia gubernatorial race, Pence has backed Gov. Brian Kemp, a fellow bete noire of Trump’s for his refusal to aid in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Trump has backed former Sen. David Perdue against Kemp, but he has consistently trailed behind the incumbent governor. 

Pence’s suggestion of a 2024 run comes amid speculation that Trump could face multiple primary challengers if he runs again. 

Moderate Republicans like Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have all played with the idea of running in 2024 regardless of whether Trump runs or not. 

On the conservative wing of the party, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has built a powerful following for his own fervent execution of culture wars in his state as well as his clashes with the Biden White House. DeSantis, who is up for reelection in November, has also broken with Trump in the past.