Pence Opens Presidential Bid With Denunciation of Trump

Republican presidential candidate former Vice President Mike Pence listens as he is introduced to speak at a campaign event, Wednesday, June 7, 2023, in Ankeny, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

ANKENY, Iowa (AP) — Former Vice President Mike Pence opened his bid for the Republican nomination for president Wednesday with a firm denunciation of former President Donald Trump, accusing his two-time running mate of abandoning conservative principles and being guilty of dereliction of duty on Jan. 6, 2021.

On that day, Pence said, as Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol after the president falsely insisted his vice president could overturn the election results, Trump “demanded I choose between him and our Constitution. Now voters will be faced with the same choice.”

Pence is the first vice president in modern history to challenge the president under whom he served. While he spent much of his speech, delivered at a community college in a suburb of Des Moines, criticizing Democratic President Joe Biden and the direction he has taken the country, he also addressed Jan. 6 head-on, saying Trump had disqualified himself when he declared falsely that Pence had the power to keep him in office.

Trump’s statements about mass voting fraud led a mob of his supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol, sending Pence and his family scrambling for safety as some in the crowd chanted, “Hang Mike Pence!”

“I believe anyone that puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States, and anyone who asks someone else to put them over the Constitution should never be president of the United Sates again,” the former vice president said.

While Pence has criticized Trump as he has worked to forge an identity of his own outside the former president’s shadow, he has generally done so obliquely, reflecting Trump’s continued popularity in the party. But Wednesday, as Pence made his pitch to voters for the first time as a declared candidate, he did not hold his tongue.

Pence also bemoaned the current politics of “grudges and grievances,” saying the country needs leaders who know the difference between the “politics of outrage and standing firm.”

“We will restore a threshold of civility in public life,” he pledged.

Nonetheless, in an interview with Fox News after his speech, Pence said he will “absolutely support the Republican nominee,” even if it’s Trump. And during a CNN town hall Wednesday night, Pence said he does not believe Trump should be indicted in the Mar-a-Lago documents case — even if federal prosecutors have evidence he committed a crime.

“I would just hope that there would be a way for them to move forward without the dramatic and drastic and divisive step of indicting (the) former president of the United States,” he said. He also refused to say whether, if elected, he would pardon Trump, if Trump were convicted.

Trump offered no response to Pence’s opening speech, but his supporters shot back.

“The question most GOP voters are asking themselves about Pence’s candidacy is ‘Why?'” said Karoline Leavitt, a spokeswoman for a Trump-backing super PAC.

With Pence’s entry into the race, on his 64th birthday, the GOP field is largely set. It includes Trump, who’s leading in early polls, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who remains in second, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Pence’s campaign will test the party’s appetite for a socially conservative and deeply religious candidate who has criticized the populist tide that has swept through his party under Trump. Pence, in many ways, represents a throwback to a party from days past. Unlike Trump and DeSantis, he argues cuts to Social Security and Medicare must be on the table and has blasted those who have questioned why the U.S. should continue to send aid to Ukraine to counter Russian aggression.

A CNN poll conducted last month found 45% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said they would not support Pence under any circumstance. And in Iowa, a March Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found Pence with higher unfavorable ratings than all the other candidates it asked about, including Trump and DeSantis.

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