Former Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech at Wednesday’s Politics and Eggs breakfast that was heavy on platitudes and traditional Republicanism, but left Granite State Republicans asking: What was the point?
The Politics and Eggs breakfasts, hosted by the New England Council and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, are a mandatory event on the ‘First in the Nation’ campaign trail. Given it was his second stop in the Granite State this year, it’s obvious Pence has 2024 on his mind.
But neither current events nor Pence’s plodding, forgettable remarks pointed toward a path to the nomination. The night before, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney had her political head handed to her by Republican primary voters, unable to break the 30 percent mark against a previously unknown opponent.
Why did this member of a Cowboy State political dynasty get trounced? Because former President Donald Trump doesn’t like her.
Enter Mike Pence.
Pence — who begins nearly every address with “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, and in that order” — speaks like a fill-in pastor at a Midwestern church delivering a homily designed to make sure nobody complains. Lots of shoutouts for the Founders, quotes from the Constitution and appeals to the Almighty.
A typical line from Pence’s speech: “America is the greatest nation in the history of the world because we have a great people who believe in freedom, and because we have ever put our trust in this ‘one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.'”
Yes, Republican primary voters believe in God; but they worship Donald Trump. And other than passing references to the “Trump/Pence administration,” he had little comment about the biggest star in the GOP, a star whose gravitational pull currently controls the trajectory of his party.
After his prepared remarks, Pence was asked about the Department of Justice searching Trump’s home and seizing boxes of materials.
“It’s fairly well known President Trump and I have had our differences,” Pence began, before raising concerns about the behavior of the FBI and saying he was “deeply troubled” by the raid.
“In the wake of the four years we endured of the politicization of the FBI … this unprecedented action demands unprecedented transparency.”
But Pence also defended the “rank-and-file” agents of the FBI.
“The Republican Party is the party of law and order,” Pence said. “Our party stands with the men and women who stand on the thin blue line at the federal and state and local level, and these attacks on the FBI must stop.
“Calls to defund the FBI are just as wrong as calls to defund the police,” Pence said.
Just days earlier, the issue of abolishing the FBI was hotly debated by candidates in New Hampshire’s GOP primaries for Congress. More of them supported than opposed — another sign of the distance between Mike Pence and the Republican base.
“Vice President Pence’s remarks underscored the enormous challenge he faces trying to simultaneously embrace and escape Donald Trump’s legacy,” said veteran GOP strategist Jim Merrill. “Trying to be something for everyone in a potentially crowded field isn’t typically a recipe for success.”
So what about Democrats? Could Pence’s bravery on January 6 inspire bipartisan support to help him win the White House? If the audience reaction is any indication, probably not.
“It sounded like he was trying out his tried-and-true, conservative red-meat issues,” said Dan Sadowski, a PR professional from Massachusetts. “He might have some short-term sympathy from Democrats after January 6th, but I don’t think he has much democratic appeal — especially given the speech he just gave.”
Peter Bragdon, a former Granite State GOP legislator, noted the audience for the event wasn’t “quite the same as the audience in a New Hampshire Republican primary. So some of the more conservative statements he made didn’t get the type of applauses that they might get at a GOP event.
“I think he’s a viable candidate,” Bragdon continued. “He talked a lot about what he did in the administration. He’s sort of offering ‘Trump without Trump.'”
But why would GOP primary voters want the “without Trump” part, asks Republican consultant Pat Griffin.
“Pence has a particularly tough road as he tries to stand with the former president for successful Trump policies, but away from Trump on January 6th,” Griffin said. For most voters, Mike Pence is Donald Trump without the orange fright wig and the crazy. What’s the premise for his candidacy with Trump in the mix? There isn’t one.”