Pence also said he will “always be proud” of his role in affirming the election results on January 6 following a deadly riot of Trump supporters at the US Capitol.
The former vice president’s remarks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, focused primarily on laying out a pro-Trump platform for a potential White House run of his own.
But Pence also offered a harsh assessment of the former President’s claims, in the days and weeks leading up to January 6, about changing the results of the election during the official counting of electoral votes in Congress.
“The Constitution affords the vice president no authority to reject or return electoral votes submitted to the Congress by the states,” said Pence, contradicting Trump’s claim at his January 6 rally that his vice president could “do the right thing” and reject the vote count.
Without mentioning Trump by name, Pence said there are “those in our party” who believe that “any one person” could select the president.
“Truth is, there is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president,” he said.
Trump continues to insist the election was stolen, and just this week told an interviewer
that he “never admitted defeat” and was “very disappointed that (Pence) didn’t send it back to the legislatures.”
By contrast, Pence acknowledged the “disappointment” of defeat in 2020.
“Now, I understand the disappointment many feel about the last election,” he said. “I can relate. I was on the ballot. But you know, there’s more at stake than our party and our political fortunes in this moment. If we lose faith in the Constitution, we won’t just lose elections — we’ll lose our country.”
It was the only clear break Pence made from the President he served loyally for four years — and whose mantle he’d like to take up for himself in the 2024 presidential race. That goal is complicated by the open possibility Trump could run again himself, and the blame that Trump’s most loyal supporters ascribe to Pence for failing to overturn the election.
Pence’s task is to distinguish himself from Trump when necessary while still aligning himself with the Trump administration achievements that are most popular with the Republican base. He began that effort at a speech in South Carolina
in April, which were his first public remarks since leaving the vice presidency. Pence isn’t the only potential 2024 contender navigating around Trump’s legacy. Nikki Haley, who criticized Trump after January 6, addressed the party faithful in Iowa on Thursday night, repeatedly sharing warm anecdotes about how she’d collaborated with him as the ambassador to the UN.
While Pence had largely avoided speaking about January 6 in April, his remarks on Thursday night attempted to address, however delicately, the false claims made by Trump. But on all else, Pence appears to be hewing closely to Trump and a Republican Party made more in the 45th President’s image.
Throughout his 45-minute speech, the Indiana Republican identified himself with Trump’s agenda on issues such as immigration, border security, trade, China and public safety. He spoke proudly of the “Trump-Pence administration’s” accomplishments in office, calling on Republicans to fuse their “traditional conservative priorities” with the “new pillars” of Trump’s agenda.
He also tried to reconcile Trump with Ronald Reagan, the former Republican President and movement conservative whom Pence credits for persuading him to defect from the Democratic Party in his youth.
“President Donald Trump is also one of a kind,” Pence said. “He too disrupted the status quo. He challenged the establishment. He invigorated our movement, and he set a bold new course for America in the 21st century. And now, as then, there is no going back.”
Elsewhere in his remarks, Pence directed plenty of criticism at Democrats, including President Joe Biden’s record on immigration and his spending proposals. He went after the “myths of the left,” criticizing cancel culture and efforts to “defund the police.” He also went after critical race theory’s use in school curriculums — a popular target of Republican governors and lawmakers across the country.
“Our party must ensure that critical race theory is expelled from our schools, our military and our public institutions,” Pence said.
But beside taking a shot at Democrats for “demeaning” the American founding, Pence offered a subtle warning for Republicans to remain what he referred to as the “last line of defense” for the Constitution.
“We must make it clear that the Republican Party will always defend the principles at the heart of our republic,” Pence said, before segueing into the defense of his actions on January 6, which he called a “dark day in the history of the United States Capitol.”