Former Vice President Mike Pence appeared at a conference of top GOP donors in New Orleans on Friday as he continued his campaign to distance himself from his former boss Donald Trump.
Pence urged the party to “move on” from the 2020 election and blasted those in the party he referred to as “apologists” for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In February after the invasion of Ukraine was underway, Trump complimented Putin for being “pretty smart.”
“He’s taking over a country for $2 worth of sanctions. I’d say that’s pretty smart,” Trump said at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. “He’s taking over a country, really a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people, just walking right in.”
Pence also tried to get the party to look to the future, not the past, in challenging Democrats going forward.
Pence also continued to push back on Trump’s lies about the 2020 election as he lays the groundwork for a possible 2024 presidential run. Trump, who has been teasing his own comeback bid that could potentially put the two in direct competition, has continued to falsely insist that Pence had the power to overturn the 2020 election, which he did not.
“Elections are about the future,” Pence said. “My fellow Republicans, we can only win if we are united around an optimistic vision for the future based on our highest values. We cannot win by fighting yesterday’s battles, or by relitigating the past.”
Pence has been increasingly willing to challenge Trump — a dramatic departure from his deferential posture as vice president.
Democrats certainly haven’t forgotten Pence bending the knee to Trump, and they won’t let the American people forget either. The former vice president can criticize Trump all he wants, but it rings hollow after four years of groveling in Trump’s presence.
But Pence has a point about elections and the future. No matter why Trump is flogging the story, it doesn’t work politically.
“We cannot win by fighting yesterday’s battles, or by relitigating the past,” he’ll add, according to prepared remarks. “Republicans can only win by offering real, lasting solutions to the problems Democrats have created for the American people.”
Pence added, “If Republicans come together and focus on the future, we won’t just win the next election. We will win a future of freedom for all the American people.”
But as long as Trump makes the 2020 election an issue for GOP candidates, it’s not going to go away. As a way to inspire the base of the Republican Party, refighting the 2020 election will work in several states and congressional districts where Trump carried the day.
But in areas where Trump is not well-liked or hated, the issue may hurt Republican candidates. And those races are where Republicans must win to take over the House and Senate.
In polls, Pence is running a distant third behind Florida Gov. Mike DeSantis and Donald Trump. His total break with Trump was necessary to establish his own identity in what is sure to be a crowded GOP field.