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Lynn Schmidt is a columnist and Editorial Board member of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Maybe it is because I am preparing to launch one of my children off to college, but I have been thinking a lot about inflection points in life. The Republican Party is also at one of those points. The party, like my daughter, needs to decide what it wants to be and whether it wants to win. But unlike my daughter, I am afraid there will be no turning back for the GOP once it chooses its fate.

This critical juncture provides an opportunity for Republican primary voters. While voters may love Donald Trump and feel he is being politically persecuted, they should consider two things and one other person; three GOP election-cycle losses, potential exhaustion from the electorate if Trump’s legal woes continue, and former Vice President Mike Pence.

While Pence has yet to enter the race, he has been in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina offering a vision for the country and the party based on values and policies, all the while strategically not attacking the former president or demeaning his supporters. Republican primary voters need to consider what the party stands for and whether it is a winning message as they shoulder the responsibility of choosing the standard bearer of the party. Here are just a few examples of the Pence-Trump divide.

Speaking in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at an event I attended, Pence touted the policies enacted during the Trump administration, but it was the rhetoric around principles that was particularly contrasting to his former boss.

Pence opened his remarks with an anecdote about his father’s service in the Army during the Korean War. He received the Bronze Star. Pence’s son is a Marine Corps officer. Pence’s son-in-law serves in the Navy. Trump, by contrast, has shared little admiration for the military. Trump has referred to fallen soldiers as “losers” and “suckers.” Trump openly mocked the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona and his service in Vietnam, including as a prisoner of war.

Pence left no doubt where he stands on the importance of standing up to Russia. “The war in Ukraine is not our war but freedom is our fight.” He called America the arsenal of democracy. He told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson “There is no room for Putin apologists in the Republican Party. This is not America’s war, but if Putin is not stopped and the sovereign nation of Ukraine is not restored quickly, he will continue to move toward our NATO allies, and America would then be called upon to send our own.”

Trump has favored a U.S. withdrawal from NATO and recently said that “the greatest threat to Western civilization today is not Russia. It’s probably, more than anything else, ourselves and some of the horrible USA-hating people representing us.”

Pence is convinced better days are ahead and that America needs to have a government as good as its people.

Pence described himself as a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican in that order. In an interview, I asked Pence where being an American fit on that list. “I feel very proud to be an American. I described myself by my values as a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican in that order. But underpinning all of it, I am a proud American. I promise you that.”

Anti-Trumpers and Never Trumpers might not think Pence passes the purity test. They might be justifiably angry that he has not responded to subpoenas or testified. While it may be a low bar, they should find comfort in the fact that Pence stood up to Trump when it truly mattered. “I had made a promise to the American people to support and defend the Constitution, and I was determined to keep it,” he wrote in his book of the Jan. 6, 2021, confrontation with Trump.

The values and policies that past Republican presidents have espoused, and that Pence is emulating, have been winners throughout the party’s modern history. President Ronald Reagan had a 63% approval rating when he left office. George W. Bush, who believed in “compassionate conservatism,” was the last Republican president to win the popular vote.

Conversely, election denialism and political instability is a real loser with the American electorate. I still believe that Trump will be the 2024 Republican nominee. I am also under no illusion that the GOP base is even interested in establishment approaches, but they should give them and Pence a second look.

The road ahead for the GOP isn’t about making big decisions. The future is in the small choices, like a primary vote, that may have big consequences and may reveal themselves to be of crucial importance later.

I hope Republican primary voters do the same as I tell my teenage daughter: Make good choices.