WASHINGTON -- Over the past five weeks former Vice President Mike Pence broke with former President Donald Trump more often than any time in the last five years.
This is no accident.
As he prepares to run for president in 2024, the once loyal number two has begun to separate himself from Trump. Pence spoke to Republican donors as Russian President Vladimir Putin's attack on Ukraine unprovoked destroyed the democratic country. He said that "There is no place in this party for apologists Putin." This direct criticism of Trump, who had previously called Putin's tactics leading to the invasion "genius", was followed by a more explicit condemnation.
He said, "President Trump is wrong", in a speech last Month. This was in response to Trump's claim that Pence could have reversed the 2020 election results by refusing certification of the electors.
This is a significant shift from Pence’s deferential position as vice president. He was so afraid of looking out of step with his boss, he would review speech drafts submitted to him by his aides, and edit in Trump’s name using a Sharpie.
If Pence is to run for the presidency in 2024, he will need a reason that differentiates him from Trump and other potential candidates. Pence's allies claim, and his recent moves show they are right, that Pence has settled on an a-la carte approach. He accepts parts of Trump's past while rejecting others.
A person close to Pence told me that he is doing a great job of highlighting the achievements of the Trump administration. "When it comes to Jan. 6 and more recently comments on Putin, he draws that line," the person said. The request for anonymity was made to discuss private deliberations. This person stated that Pence's argument was, "If Trump's policies are what you want, but not all of the other stuff, then I'm going to fight for it."
Since leaving office, Pence has given speeches all over the country, combining pointed attacks against President Joe Biden with a defence of the Trump administration’s efforts to cut taxes and reduce regulations, as well as to protect the southern border. A student asked him where the nearest toilet was, and he got a laugh out of an audience at Stanford University. Pence replied, "Hey! This is a real thing." "President Harry Truman stated, 'Don’t ever miss the chance to use the bathroom.'" He also made sharpest comparisons with Trump over Russia and the 2020 election that the ex-president still insists he won.
A second source close to Pence said that Pence could also choose to return to a traditional Republican platform in order to differentiate himself in a presidential election. Trump's presidency saw a change in the GOP. The former president sought out authoritarian leaders, and considered withdrawing NATO, the military alliance which has served as a stronghold against Russia for many decades. According to this person, Pence would support more traditional GOP positions and emphasize the importance of democratic governance. Pence, who is trying to improve his foreign policy credentials by meeting with Naftali Bennett, the Israeli Prime Minister, and touring the border between Poland and Ukraine with Karen, has been busy building his international diplomacy.
According to a video, Pence said to a Ukrainian refugee with a small child.
Making repeated appearances in early presidential primary states, Pence looks and sounds like a candidate-in-waiting. South Carolina is becoming a home base for Pence, who holds the South's first presidential primary. Pence will deliver the commencement speech in South Carolina at the end of April, and then return to the state in the first week of May to address a Christian pregnancy centre. The state's large evangelical population makes it a natural target for the former vice-president, who is described as a Christian first and conservative second, and a Republican third.
A Pence aide said that the presidency is not something he thinks about. However, if it does come, he will discuss it with Karen and pray for it."
Pence's recent positions show that "he is moving inexorably towards running in 2024, and maybe has already made that choice," John Bolton said in an interview. Bolton was a former national security advisor who worked with Pence at the White House.
He is at risk of becoming a permanent adversary to Trump. He appears to be on the right-side of the public opinion, even among Republicans. A Quinnipiac poll showed that 52 percent of Republicans believe that Pence's belief that he has no authority to reverse the 2020 election results is closer to their view than Trump's.
Russia: Trump is still under fire for his interview last month, in which he claimed that Putin was "genius" in recognizing two Moscow-backed regions as independent in Ukraine's eastern part. This step was quickly followed by troops moving in those areas ahead of an invasion.
In an interview, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) stated that he was wrong.
American voters and Republican Party leaders sympathizing with Ukraine's situation seem to be out of tune with Putin's praise. An earlier Reuters/Ipsos survey found that the overwhelming majority of Americans favor aggressive measures to assist Ukraine in resisting the Russian attack. Nearly three quarters of respondents said that the U.S. and its allied countries should establish a no fly zone in Ukraine. This is an escalatory move that the Biden administration has rejected to take.
John Kelly, Trump’s longest-serving chief of staff, stated that anyone who makes positive comments about Putin isn’t very smart. He said this: "Anyone who associates themselves to any positive comments isn’t being very smart. If you look at the way everyone is aghast over what’s happening in Ukraine."
Pence has a new opportunity to get out of Trump's shadow and grow his political network with the midterm elections in November. His advocacy group announced last Wednesday that it would invest $10 million in an ad campaign targeting 16 Democratic House members. It urges them, among other things, to increase domestic oil production. This ad purchase could be a way for him to win the respect of Republican legislators in difficult re-election battles. According to an aide to the group, more ads are on the way.
It's not clear how much Trump will invest in midterm campaigns with the $120 million plus war chest he has. One strategist for the GOP feared that it would be too little too late.
The strategist stated that "No one is betting on that $120 million coming into" and spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak more freely. It's not something people assume is going to happen.
Trump has made several endorsements in his bid to get rid of disloyal Republican officials. If his endorsed candidates fail to win, the gambit could backfire. Trump has supported former Senator David Perdue in Georgia's governor's race. Perdue is running against incumbent Brian Kemp in Republican primary. Trump was upset that Kemp did not uphold the 2020 election results in which Trump lost the state. Pence, on the other hand, has pledged support for all incumbent Republican governors even if they are challenged by Trump-endorsed candidates. In a Fox News poll, Kemp led Perdue 11 points.
Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, asked Trump what he would do to help Republicans regain the House and Senate during the midterm elections. Trump said he would hold rallies, which is his favorite forum. Trump's spokesperson did not respond to our request for comment.
According to NBC News, a second source close to Pence said that Pence is making decisions "completely separate from Trump's."
Former officials claim that Pence did not reveal his thoughts in meetings, and instead waited until he was alone. He is now writing two books to help him reintroduce himself on his terms to voters. One book will be about his work over the years in the conservative movement; the other will be about his vice presidency.
The aide to the Pence advocacy group said that "I'm certain it will tell stories previously unsold." "But it will also reveal the many achievements of the Trump-Pence government and his participation in them."
Ex-officials such as the former Attorney general William Barr, and Stephanie Grisham, former press secretary, also came out with books that had a retaliatory flavour.
Pence doesn't like to tell the truth, but Mike Pence could be "the person that could give Donald Trump most headaches," according to a third person close.