Former Vice President Mike Pence made his strongest bid yet on Thursday night to split from his former boss, Donald J. Trump, over the issue of certifying the 2020 election results.
Speaking at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, Mr. Pence defended the constitutionally mandated role he played in certifying the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6, when a violent mob of Trump loyalists — some chanted” Hang Mike Pence” – stormed the Capitol as the president did nothing for hours to stop them.
“I will always be proud that on that tragic day we did our part to reconvene Congress and fulfill our duty under the Constitution and the laws of the United States,” said Mr. Pence, noting that he as vice president, no constitutional authority to reject or return electoral votes submitted to Congress by states. “The truth is, there’s almost no idea more un-American than the idea that one person could elect the US president.”
It was the furthest Mr. Pence, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2024, has gone so far to defend his role that day or distance himself from Mr Trump, to whom he was honorable during their four years in office together. .
In the speeches Mr. Pence has made since he left the White House, he has gone out of his way to praise Mr Trump and his agenda, even repeating some of the former president’s complaint-fueled messages that align with the country’s cultural wars.
On Thursday evening, Mr. Pence argued that “critical race theory,” a graduate school framework that has made its way into K-12 public education, was in fact “state-sanctioned racism.”
And he spent much of his speech reciting what he believes were Mr. Trump’s achievements on numerous topics, including free trade, border security and relations with China. “President Trump has changed the national consensus on China,” he said.
Mr. Pence also compared Mr. Trump to former President Ronald Reagan.
“He too disrupted the status quo,” Pence said. “He challenged the establishment. He spurred our movement and charted a bold new course for America.”
But so far, Mr. Pence has only been on tiptoe about how he can remain the loyal soldier while he distances himself from the events of January 6.
At the Lincoln-Reagan dinner in Manchester, NH this month, Mr. Pence admits that he and Mr. Trump might never agree on the Capitol riots, and stopped criticizing one opinion over another.
On Thursday night, he adamantly refused to declare that he and Mr Trump had lost the 2020 election, a reality the former president continued to deny.
“I understand the disappointment many are feeling about the last election,” said Mr Pence. “I agree. I was on the ballot. But there is more at stake right now than our party or our political fortune. If we lose faith in the Constitution, we don’t just lose elections – we lose country.”
Whether Mr. Pence will manage to go either way — being seen as an ally and a critic of Mr. Trump — remains to be seen. Polls show that a majority of Republican voters believe Mr Trump won the 2020 election and believe his baseless claims about voter fraud.
mr. Pence also tests the patience of a man who still looms over the political landscape and the Republican Party. While Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence have spoken to each other several times since he left office, Mr. Trump has shown flashes of frustration with his former loyal number 2.
In private and at a Republican National Committee donor event in Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s Florida resort, shortly after a book deal for Mr. Pence was announced, the former president mocked Mr. Pence for certifying President Biden’s electoral college victory, according to people familiar with the discussions, as well as a detailed description of the night’s remarks.