On the trail: Pence paints contrasts with Trump, DeSantis, during NH stop

  • FILE - Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks to students at Georgetown University in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. Former Vice President Mike Pence has been subpoenaed by the special counsel overseeing investigations into efforts by former President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023 ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File) Jose Luis Magana

For the Monitor
Published: 3/17/2023 2:59:05 PM

KEENE – Former Vice President Mike Pence, who’s moving toward a likely 2024 White House run, used an appearance in New Hampshire to spotlight his political differences with former President Donald Trump – his one-time running mate and potential future rival for the GOP nomination.

And Pence, as he keynoted the Cheshire County GOP’s annual Lincoln-Reagan fundraising dinner in Keene and later took questions from reporters, painted policy contrasts with Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who remains on the 2024 sidelines but who along with the former vice president is expected to jump into the Republican primary battle in the coming months.

“I think as Republicans we have to resist the temptation of doing what’s popular over what’s wise. We have to resist the politics of personality, the lure of populism,” Pence said to the receptive audience on Thursday evening as he took aim at Trump without naming his former boss. “We have to get back to the timeless conservative principles that made New Hampshire and America strong.”

Pence also reiterated his sharp criticisms of Trump’s actions during the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capital by right-wing extremists and other supporters of the then-president — including some chanting “hang Mike Pence” — who aimed to upend congressional certification of President Biden’s Electoral College victory that was overseen by Pence.

And the former vice president highlighted his support for Ukraine and made clear that he firmly disagrees with Trump and DeSantis on an issue that’s dividing the burgeoning Republican 2024 presidential nomination field.

Pointing to the more than year-long Russian war against Ukraine, Pence acknowledged that “there is much debate about this even within our party and that’s healthy.’’

But the former vice president emphasized that “Republicans need to speak clearly that we understand that America is the arsenal of democracy… we must continue to provide the courageous Ukrainian military the support they need to drive Russia off their sovereign soil.”

Pence’s comments came days after DeSantis argued that protecting Ukraine is not a “vital” national interest for America.

While many in the GOP’s traditional hawkish wing firmly back supporting Ukraine and criticize President Biden’s administration for not doing enough to assist Kyiv, they face an increasingly more vocal wing of anti-war voices from the MAGA wing of the party that is led by Trump, who remains the front-runner in the early legs of the GOP presidential nomination race.

DeSantis made news a few days ago when he wrote that “while the U.S. has many vital national interests — securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness within our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party — becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.”

Speaking with reporters, Pence pushed back against the DeSantis and Trump stances on Ukraine.

“I think anyone who believes that Vladimir Putin will stop if he takes Ukraine has another thing coming,” Pence said. “I’ve met Vladimir Putin. It’s clear to me….that he has returned to his efforts to re-establish what used to be the old Soviet sphere of influence.”

And pointing specifically toward the Florida governor’s comments, the former vice president stressed “let me be very clear – the war in Ukraine is not a territorial dispute. It is a Russian invasion.”

Pence headlined the fundraising gala in Keene after meeting behind closed doors in Manchester with a group of Republican activists and leaders. He was joined by two of his top advisers.

The early public opinion polls in the GOP nomination race in New Hampshire and nationally indicate Trump is the front-runner with DeSantis in second and everyone else far behind, in the mid to low single digits.

But Juliana Bergeron, one of the two New Hampshire committee members on the Republican National Committee and a former Cheshire County GOP chair, told this reporter “I do think there’s room for somebody like a Mike Pence or Nikki Haley.”

And Bergeron, who as an RNC committee member is staying neutral in the nomination race, said she thinks Republican voters in New Hampshire are “looking for a new generation of candidates.”

On their way to New Hampshire

Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is returning later this month to New Hampshire.

The former two-term governor who unsuccessfully ran for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and who’s considered one of the best communicators in the GOP, has repeatedly said for well over a year that he’s “thinking” about making another bid for the White House in 2024.

Christie will headline a town-hall style event at 5 p.m. on Monday, March 27 at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, Fox News has learned. For over two decades, the institute — which hosts the well-known “Politics and Eggs” speaker series — has been a must-stop for actual or potential White House contenders from both major parties visiting the Granite State.

Christie traveled to New Hampshire to headline “Politics and Eggs” last April.

Christie placed all his chips in his campaign for president seven years ago in New Hampshire, but his presidential campaign crashed and burned after a disappointing and distant sixth-place finish in the primary, far behind Trump, who crushed the competition in the primary, boosting him toward the nomination and eventually the White House.

Christie became the first among the other GOP 2016 contenders to endorse Trump, and for years was a top outside adviser to the then-president. But the two had a falling out after Trump’s unsuccessful attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to now-President Biden.

Former ambassador to the United Nations and former two-term South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who launched a 2024 Republican presidential nomination campaign last month, also returns to New Hampshire on March 27, when she headlines a town hall meeting in Dover. The next night Haley holds a similar event in Salem.

And DeSantis makes his first trip this election cycle to New Hampshire on April 14, when he headlines the New Hampshire Republican State Committee’s Amos Tuck Dinner in Manchester. The event is the state party’s largest annual fundraiser.

News of the trip by DeSantis to New Hampshire followed his jam-packed swing a week ago through Iowa, the governor’s first visit ever to the state whose caucuses lead off the Republican presidential primary and caucus schedule. The following day, DeSantis held an event in Nevada, the state that votes fourth in the GOP calendar.

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