WASHINGTON — Mike Pence is getting a one-day head start on rallying the Republican base in Washington before his former boss, Donald Trump, returns to the U.S. capital for the first time since the violent end to his presidency.
The timing of the speeches — Pence on Monday, Trump on Tuesday — is shaping up as a contest between the two men. Both have increasingly hinted at 2024 White House runs, potentially setting them on a collision course on the primary trail and in debates.
They’re taking the stage at separate venues just days after the latest U.S. House committee hearing on the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, which portrayed Trump as watching the insurrection on television as a mob of his supporters searched for Pence, chanting death threats.
Pence’s speech at the Heritage Foundation, set for 5 p.m., outlines the “Freedom Agenda” that the former vice president released earlier this year. He will present it as a road map for the conservative movement on economic, cultural and other issues that can serve as a platform if he runs in 2024.
The former vice president will call for unified conservative action because “this may be the best chance we will ever have to build a lasting majority, to invigorate the conservative movement with Americans of every background” and “save our nation from a future of left-wing tyranny, socialism and decline,” according to excerpts obtained by Bloomberg News.
He’ll also talk about the need to focus on the future — a dig at Trump’s obsession with re-litigating the 2020 presidential election that he lost.
“Some people may choose to focus on the past — but I believe conservatives must focus on the future,” Pence will say. “If we do, we won’t just win the next election, we will change the course of American history for generations.”
Trump plans to deliver the keynote address at 3 p.m. Tuesday at the “America First Agenda Summit,” hosted by a nonprofit group formed by several of his former Cabinet officers and White House aides.
Pence’s speech was scheduled before the July 14 announcement that Trump would headline the America First event, according to his advisers.
While Pence hasn’t been afraid to challenge his former boss and sometimes is criticized by Trump loyalists for refusing to reject Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, he has been careful to praise Trump’s policies, often referring to the achievements of the “Trump-Pence administration.”
Before Pence rejected Trump’s demand to help undo his defeat to Joe Biden, their relationship was defined by the vice president’s unbounded loyalty and deference toward the president. It has since spiraled, with Trump still insinuating some 18 months later that Pence wilted under pressure when he refused to overturn the election results.
But Pence has countered in both direct and subtle ways.
On Friday, he campaigned in Arizona for his favored gubernatorial candidate, Karrin Taylor Robson, as Trump was in the state to stump for Kari Lake, whom he has endorsed.
In May, Pence held a rally for incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia on the eve of his primary contest against former Sen. David Perdue. Trump had endorsed Perdue over Kemp, whom he assailed for refusing to overturn his loss in Georgia to Biden.
Kemp trounced Perdue.
Pence took an indirect swipe at Trump in a March speech at a Republican National Committee retreat, where Trump also spoke. He said there’s no room in the GOP for “apologists” of Vladimir Putin after Trump had praised the Russian president’s strategy before the invasion of Ukraine as “pretty smart,” “genius” and “very savvy.”
After Trump made a statement in January saying Pence “could have overturned the election,” the former vice president contradicted him in a speech at a Federalist Society event in Florida, saying: “President Trump is wrong.”
Pence also defended his decision to accept the Electoral College votes against Trump’s wishes in a speech in June 2021 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. “The truth is, there’s almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president,” he said.
While Trump’s grip on the party has weakened, most current polls of hypothetical 2024 matchups show he would win a Republican presidential primary.
Surveys also show Pence widely trailing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as the alternative to Trump in a potentially crowded primary field.
Mark Niquette, Bloomberg News