NEW YORK (AP) — Former Vice President Mike Pence ramped up his criticism of fellow Republicans at a GOP donor summit Friday night, trying to paint his would-be rivals as straying from party principles as he inches closer to an expected presidential run.
Speaking at a Republican National Committee donor summit in Nashville, Pence planned to criticize former President Donald Trump and others who have questioned the war in Ukraine and oppose entitlement reform and further curbs on abortion rights. He argued the party will be better served by candidates who espouse more traditional GOP views, according to excerpts shared by aides ahead of his remarks.
“It’s becoming clearer every day that the upcoming Republican primaries will not just be a contest of candidates but a conflict of visions,” Pence was expected to tell donors. “One vision grounded in traditional Republican principles, and another vision driven by the promise of winning at the expense of our highest ideals.”
He said the party’s route to victory rests on a “well-worn path” it has “traveled for the better part of half a century,” including support for strong national defense, limited government and “traditional” social values.
“We will win if we run boldly as Republicans,” he was expected to add. “We will lose if we run away from that proven American agenda.”
Pence is widely expected to launch a campaign for the White House in the coming weeks that will put him in direct competition with his former boss, who is the frontrunner for the GOP nomination.
Pence, who was a loyal lieutenant to Trump in the White House, has spent the years since he left office distancing himself from the former president. That has included criticizing Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of Trump’s supporters violently stormed the Capitol building as Pence was presiding over the certification of President Joe Biden’s win. Trump was furious with Pence for refusing to go along with his unconstitutional scheme to overturn the results, and the two have been at odds ever since.
In his speech at the retreat, Pence continued to tacitly criticize Trump as well as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another likely candidate, saying the party must “resist the politics of personality and the lure of populism unmoored to timeless conservative values.”
“If 2022 taught us anything, it’s that candidates that were focused on the challenges facing American families did well. But candidates focused on the past, on litigating the last election, did not do well,” he was expected to add. “Elections are always about the future. To win in 2024, the Republican Party must be the party of the future.”
The comments came hours after both men spoke at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Pence’s home state of Indiana, where Pence was greeted with a smattering of boos from the crowd. It was a reflection of lingering animosity from Trump’s loyal base, which continues to harbor resentments over Pence’s handling of the 2020 election.
Trump, who will address the donor summit in Nashville Saturday, took a dig at Pence from the NRA stage, telling the crowd he hoped they’d given the former vice president a warm introduction. Still, he called Pence a “nice” and “good man.”
Pence, in his remarks, was expected to continued to criticize those in his party who have questioned U.S. support for Ukraine after Russia’s invasion. “Joe Biden wants to cut defense spending. But for some reason, so do some prominent Republicans,” he was expected to say.
DeSantis last month walked back his characterization of the war as a “territorial dispute” following criticism from a number of fellow Republicans who expressed concern about the potential 2024 presidential candidate’s dismissive description of the conflict.
Pence was also expected to call out Trump for opposing reforms to Social Security and Medicare, such as increasing the age of qualification — once a standard GOP talking point.
“Sadly, our former president has echoed Biden’s pledge ‘not to touch’ Social Security. I think we owe my three granddaughters better,” he was planning to say.
He was also expected to criticize those in his party who are shying away from further restrictions on abortion rights following a series of GOP losses.
“On the heels of the biggest pro-life victory in history, too many Republicans want to run away from the cause that has animated our party for half a century,” he was going to say, according to the excerpts.
Trump has warned that the party risks fallout from tight abortion restrictions, while DeSantis late Thursday signed a 6-week ban into law.