Mike Pence rips Trump as he launches his 2024 GOP presidential bid

ANKENY, Iowa — Former Vice President Mike Pence kicked off his bid for the Republican presidential nomination on Wednesday by accusing his two-time running mate, former President Donald Trump, of abandoning conservatism and standing up to the Constitution on January 6.

“When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, he promised to govern as a conservative, and that’s exactly what we did together,” Pence said. “Today he makes no such promise.”

Pence cites abortion as a stark example of Trump’s departure from conservative party principles.

“The sanctity of life has been our party’s calling for half a century — long before Donald Trump was a part of it,” Pence planned to say. “Now he treats it like an inconvenience, even blaming the 2022 election losses for overturning Roe v. Wade.”

Those remarks, coupled with a rebuke of Trump’s efforts to nullify the 2020 election, represent the most aggressive public repudiation of Trump to date by Pence.

A president who put himself above the Constitution — and asked his vice president to do the same — “should never again be president of the United States,” Pence said.

Pence, who certified the 2020 election results under threat from Trump supporters, reiterated Wednesday that he had no constitutional authority to stop the count and that he would have set a bad precedent if he had tried.

“President Trump also demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution,” Pence said, reflecting on the most obvious contrast between the two men. “Now voters will face the same choice. I chose the Constitution and I always will.”

He went into the language of the Constitution to explain the powers of the vice president — and how expanding them could harm Republicans in the future.

“The former president continues to insist that I had the right to void the election — President Trump was wrong then and he’s wrong now,” Pence said. “I had no right to cancel the election and [Vice President] Kamala Harris will not have the right to void the election when we beat them in 2024.”

Pence concluded that Trump “demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution,” adding “now voters will be faced with the same choice.”

More broadly, Pence argues that Trump and President Joe Biden have failed to live up to the standards of civility that he says Americans seek in their leaders.

“Most Americans treat each other with kindness and respect — even when we disagree,” Pence planned to say. “It’s not asking too much of our leaders to do the same. Clearly, neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump shares that belief, and neither has any intention of bringing this nation together.”

Earlier in the day, on his 64th birthday, Pence, the former Indiana governor and six-term congressman, released a kickoff video taking jabs at Biden by name and Trump by implication.

“President Joe Biden and the radical left have weakened America at home and abroad,” Pence said in a 2.5-minute self-narrated montage from Americana. “We can transform this country. But different times call for different leadership.”

Turning more candidly to the often nasty Trump, Pence added, “Today our party and our country need a leader who will please, as Lincoln said, the best angels in our nature.”

In the video, titled “Best Days”, Pence says the country is in bad shape, but its “best days” are ahead.

One of three candidates to enter the GOP primary field this week — former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie jumped on Tuesday, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is expected to announce Wednesday — Pence considers the first caucus of the ‘Iowa as fertile ground for its brand of traditional and faith-based conservatism.

There’s no doubt he faces an uphill battle to run for the party’s nomination when Trump has a majority of GOP voters in most national polls and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis holds a clear second place with 22.4% in the RealClearPolitics average of recent surveys. .

Trump allies have welcomed Pence into the race as a potential drain on DeSantis’ support.

“Mike Pence’s entry into the race caps another bad week for Ron DeSantis’ wavering campaign,” Karoline Leavitt, spokeswoman for Make America Great Again Inc., a pro-Trump political committee, said in a statement. . “But the question most GOP voters ask about Pence’s candidacy is, ‘Why?’

Pence ranks fourth, behind Trump, DeSantis and Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador to the UN, with less than 4% in the RealClearPolitics average.

But beyond the numbers, a Pence comeback would require an epic reversal of political dynamics within the GOP.

Less than three years ago, Pence went into hiding as a Trump-spurred mob ransacked the Capitol. Some in the crowd, angry at his refusal to block certification of the Trump-Pence ticket’s 2020 defeat, chanted “Hang Mike Pence!”

It was a dramatic turn for a loyal supporter who had spent his vice presidential years nodding alongside Trump. At times, Pence’s support was crucial for Trump, especially during their first run together in 2016.

At the time, some conservatives — especially evangelical Christians — worried that Trump was drifting away from the Republican base. Others were appalled by his personal conduct, including the release of an “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged about how easily he could sexually assault women with impunity.

Pence, who has sought to restrict abortion and gay rights in Congress and as Indiana governor, has acted as an important validator for Trump.

Now, like the other Republicans in the race, he faces the immense challenge of whittling support for Trump and solidifying the universe of GOP voters who either have antipathy toward Trump or are simply open to another candidate. .

And while Pence has near-universal name recognition among voters, a plus for most candidates, his low poll numbers suggest his challenge is complicated by the fact that the electorate’s opinion of him has already been formed.

“Mike Pence is a true conservative and a great public servant,” said Dan Eberhart, a GOP donor who supports DeSantis. “He just doesn’t have the Republican support he needs to be competitive.”

Pence campaign officials are well aware that they need to recast the public narrative about him. They hope they can reintroduce him not as Trump’s vice president or as the man who stood between the mob and the Constitution, but as the conservative leader he was in Congress and in Indiana.

Pence, an advocate for President George W. Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, was firm in his support for US aid to Ukraine when Trump and DeSantis questioned the wisdom of that mission.

He also stood out from the frontrunners by calling for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, a policy position popular with economic conservatives but anathema to more populist Republicans.

He reiterated that distinction in his remarks on Wednesday, chastising his fellow Republican candidates for their inattention to mounting debt.

As a member of the House, Pence opposed Bush as the leader of a rebel group that opposed his enactment of a prescription drug program for Medicare. He was also a leading advocate for the budgets of dead-on-arrival conservative factions that would have cut rights programs.

On abortion, an issue that has fractured the GOP since the Supreme Court struck down federal procedural protections last year, Pence called for a nationwide ban. Trump, who named three of the justices who voted in the majority, stopped short of that. DeSantis, who recently signed a six-week ban into law in Florida, dodged questions about whether he would sign a measure banning abortion nationwide.

Pence’s returning Republican platform — strong national defense, spending cuts and conservative social policy — has allowed allies to see a ray of hope in Iowa, which is why he’s launching his campaign there. .

“We see this race as absolutely wide open, and Iowa is really going to solidify itself as a pivotal player,” a person familiar with Pence’s plans said last week. “It’s a place that values ​​the principles of Mike Pence – traditional conservative principles – deep-rooted faith and uncommon character.”

This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com

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