Former Vice President Mike Pence has become much more emboldened in his criticism of his former boss, Donald Trump, in recent months, but has refused to stoop to Mr Trump’s online admonishments and name-calling tactics.
Mr Pence is trying to pave a pathway back to the White House – without his name on a ballot next to Mr Trump. But it’s no secret that the former vice president isn’t polling particularly well, with just over five per cent in the polls, putting him in fourth place in a crowded GOP field.
The man who was once described as “cartoonishly loyal as Trump’s vice president” (and who once praised Trump every 12 seconds for three minutes straight during a 2017 Cabinet meeting) is now taking harsher stances and carefully distancing himself, at times, from the former president.
Mr Pence has a signature style, one that has been well curated from decades ago after losing a House race; in 1991, he vowed to avoid negative campaign attacks. This promise seemed to inform a lot of Mr Pence’s responses to significant events in which his former boss found himself in hot water. Rather than pointing fingers, the former Indiana governor tends to turn the conversation to the American public and tread diplomatically.
Here are all of the things Mr Pence has said about Mr Trump, both while he was in office and after, showcasing his transformation from the former president’s right-hand man to Mr Trump’s competitor for the Republican nomination.
On Access Hollywood Tape:
“Mother is not going to like this,” Mr Pence reportedly said, referring to his wife, after Mr Trump told him that the infamous 2005 Access Hollywood tape surfaced – months before the 2016 election – in which Mr Trump discusses his treatment of women. “Grab them by the p****,” he can be heard saying in the tape.
During the encounter, Mr Pence reportedly wrote in a letter to Mr Trump that he was “ready to step in” to replace the GOP nominee on the 2016 ticket. A day later, Mr Pence issued a statement.
“As a husband and a father, I was offended by the words and actions described by Donald Trump in the 11-year-old video released yesterday,” the Indiana Republican said.
“I do not condone his remarks and cannot defend them,” Mr Pence continued. “We pray for his family and look forward to the opportunity he has to show what is in his heart when he goes before the nation tomorrow night.”
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic raging on and sparking lockdowns across the world, Mr Pence wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in June 2020 declaring “There isn’t a Coronavirus ‘second wave.’” He defended his boss, who continued to downplay the tragic situation, writing, “Thanks to the leadership of President Trump and the courage and compassion of the American people, our public health system is far stronger than it was four months ago, and we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.”
The op-ed was written just days after the US death toll from the virus surpassed 110,000. A day before the op-ed came out, on 15 June 2020, Mr Trump said: “Even without [widespread testing], you know, at some point this stuff goes away and it’s going away. Our numbers are much lower now.” He later added, “If we stopped testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any.”
On Donald Trump’s first impeachment:
On 18 December 2019, Mr Trump was impeached by the House for abuse of power – for withholding aid to Ukraine in exchange for the country’s investigation into his political adversaries.
During the House’s impeachment vote, MrTrump and Mr Pence were in Michigan for a “Merry Christmas Rally.” Mr Trump told the crowd, “It doesn’t really feel like we’re being impeached,” apparently deflecting some of the blame onto Mr Pence, who replied, “I know that here in Michigan and all across America, voters will remember in November.”
One month after the House’s first impeachment of Mr Trump, in January, Mr Pence denied knowledge of Mr Trump’s pressuring the Ukrainian president. “But what I’ve said over and over again,” he said, “is I was never aware of the allegations that there was some pressure campaign for investigations against the Bidens that was underway until those matters became public.”
On January 6:
Mr Pence has repeatedly and steadfastly defended his efforts during the turbulent events on January 6, when a mob of rioters was chanting for him to be hanged. At times, though, he has spoken more pointedly than others about his former boss’s actions on that same day.
In a letter to Congress, Mr Pence wrote that he lacked the authority to block the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory, rejecting Mr Trump’s request. He penned, “I do not believe that the founders of our country intended to invest the vice president with unilateral authority to decide which electoral votes should be counted during the joint session of Congress, and no vice president in American history has ever asserted such authority.”
One day later, he called the Capitol riot an “unprecedented violence and vandalism.”
“To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today: you did not win. Violence never wins. Freedom wins,” he offered in the aftermath. “And this is still the people’s house. And as we reconvene in this chamber the world will again witness the resilience and strength of our democracy.”
Months later, Mr Pence reflected at a Republican dinner in New Hampshire in June 2021, “That day, January 6, was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol.” He continued, “But thanks to the swift action of the Capitol police and federal law enforcement, violence was quelled. The Capitol was secured. And that same day, we reconvened the Congress and did our duty under the constitution and the laws of the United States.”
He concluded by saying: “You know, President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office. And I don’t know if we’ll ever see eye to eye on that day.”
Speaking to Sean Hannity the following October, Mr Pence seemed to downplay the events while discussing Mr Trump, “Look, you can’t spend almost five years in a political foxhole with somebody without developing a strong relationship. He then turned to January 6, calling it “a tragic day in the history of our Capitol Building.”
He added, “But thanks to the efforts of Capitol Hill Police, federal officials, the Capitol was secured. We finished our work, and the president and I sat down a few days later and talked through all of it.”
Mr Pence seemed to take a page out of Mr Trump’s playbook, pivoting the conversation about the aftermath of the Capitol riot to attacking the press: “I know the media wants to distract from the Biden administration’s failed agenda by focusing on one day in January.” He continued, “They want to use that one day to try and demean the character and intentions of 74 million Americans who believed we could be strong again and prosperous again and supported our administration in 2016 and 2020.”
“But for our part, I truly believe we all ought to remain completely focused on the future. That’s where I’m focused and I believe the future is bright,” Mr Pence said.
A few months later, in February, he changed his tune a bit again, telling the conservative Federalist Society: “I had no right to overturn the election. The presidency belongs to the American people and the American people alone. And frankly, there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president.”
More recently, the former Indiana governor campaigned for Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, calling him “one of the most successful conservative governors in America.” Although he didn’t mention Mr Trump explicitly, the move could have been interpreted as a not-so-subtle rebuke to the former president, who has an ongoing feud with Mr Kemp
Mr Kemp rejected Mr Trump’s requests to help overturn the state’s 2020 election results , and then in 2022, the governor resoundingly defeated a Trump-backed opponent. The Georgia governor also testified in the state’s probe into the former president’s efforts in the wake of the 2020 election—for which Mr Trump has now been indicted.
On Donald Trump’s second impeachment:
Mr Trump was impeached again on 13 January 2021 – this time for incitement of insurrection.
When asked if he would remove Mr Trump from office via the 25th Amendment, he wrote in a letter on 12 January to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi without addressing the impeachment efforts: “I do not believe that such a course of action is in the best interest of our Nation or consistent with our Constitution.” He argued that using the process now would “set a terrible precedent,” adding that “our Administration’s energy is directed to ensuring an orderly transition” to Biden’s administration.
He did not call Mr Trump by name throughout the letter.
Months after the second impeachment, in March, Mr Pence reflected, “President Trump was wrong. I had no right to overturn the election, and his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day, and I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”
On the hush money indictment:
After Mr Trump was indicted by a New York grand jury on 30 March 2023, Mr Pence reacted to the news, speaking defensively of his former boss and echoing frequent Republican reactions: “I think the unprecedented indictment of a former president of the United States on a campaign finance issue is an outrage.”
“It appears to millions of Americans to be nothing more than a political prosecution that’s driven by a prosecutor who literally ran for office on a pledge to indict the former president,” he continued. Mr Trump’s former veep added that the decision is “a great disservice to the country” and “the American people will look at this and see it as one more example of the criminalization of politics in this country.”
On the E Jean Carroll case:
Mere hours after Mr Trump was found liable for sexual assault and defamation against former Elle columnist E Jean Carroll on 9 May, Mr Pence said, “I would tell you, in my four-and-a-half years serving alongside the president, I never heard or witnessed behaviour of that nature.”
He also added that most Americans probably don’t care about the result of the case, predicting it wouldn’t hurt Mr Trump’s 2024 presidential run: “At a time when American families are struggling, when our economy is hurting…[it’s] just one more story focusing on my former running mate that I know is a great fascination to members of the national media, but I just don’t think is where the American people are focused.”
Pence’s campaign launch:
Whether it was due to the nature of the cases or due to Mr Pence announcing his presidential run on 7 June, the former vice president seemed to become more aggressive and political in his responses – and less wary to criticise his former boss. At his campaign launch, he discussed the Capitol riot – and Mr Trump’s responsibility for the mob.
“January 6 was a tragic day in the life of our nation,” the Indiana Republican began. “As I’ve said many times, on that fateful day, president Trump’s words were reckless. They endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol.”
He continued, “But the American people deserve to know that on that day, President Trump also demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution. Now, voters will be faced with the same choice: I chose the Constitution and I always will.”
On classified documents federal indictment:
Mr Pence also took a more political stance after his former boss was indicted in June related to the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago. “This indictment contains serious charges, and I cannot defend what is alleged,” Mr Pence said on CNBC. “The handling of classified materials is a very serious matter,” he said, adding, “the former president has a right to his day in court.”
“I can’t believe that politics didn’t play some role here,” Mr Pence added. “If I have the privilege to be president of the United States, we’re going to clean house at the Department of Justice. We’re going to find men and women who are universally respected by both political parties, and we’re going to restore public confidence and equal treatment under the law.”
During CNN town hall in June, Mr Pence also alluded to the classified documents found at Biden’s private residence – yet made no reference to classified documents found at his Indiana home: “President Biden had no business having him in his residence from when he was vice president as well, and the same with former President Trump. But 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 a former president of the United States.”
Earlier this week, Mr Pence may have weakened Mr Trump’s defence in the classified documents case; the former president has repeatedly claimed that he declassified the material in question before leaving office. “I was never made aware of any broad-based effort to declassify documents,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”
“There is a process that the White House goes through to declassify materials,” Mr Pence continued. “I’m aware of that occurring on several cases over the course of our four years. But I don’t have any knowledge of any broad-based directive from the president. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t occur; it’s just not something that I ever heard about.”
On 2020 election interference federal indictment:
One day after the former president was again federally indicted related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election in early August, Mr Pence recycled his usual line from January 6: “Anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be President of the United States.”
Although Mr Trump is “entitled to the presumption of innocence,” he added, the nation “ is more important than one man.”
When asked if he would testify in the former president’s criminal trial, Mr Pence explained, “I testified under a subpoena before the grand jury. I’m somebody that believes in the rule of law, but look, I have nothing to hide.”
The Indiana Republican then added a political flair to his response. “And I have seen the weaponization of the Justice Department,” he continued, echoing a familiar line uttered by other members of the GOP. “I’d hope that on this matter of January 6, that it wouldn’t come to this because I do believe that this is only going to kind of further ignite the divide in the country.”
On the Georgia indictment:
After a Fulton County grand jury voted to indict the former president on 14 August, Mr Pence also stuck to his usual talking points related to all things related to the Capitol riot – while also giving a reminder about due process.
“The Georgia election was not stolen and I had no right to overturn the election on Jan. 6,” Mr Pence said on 16 August. “No one is above law,” he added, “And the president and all those implicated are entitled to the presumption of innocence.”
As part of his 2024 campaign, Mr Pence has made clear that he differed from his former boss—and fellow Republican candidate Ron DeSantis – regarding the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
“With all due respect, I think the former president and the governor of Florida just don’t understand Americans’ national interest in supporting the Ukrainian military in repelling the Russian military in Ukraine,” he said in July during a campaign event in Sioux City.
“If we don’t stand apart, if we don’t give the Ukrainian military what they need to defeat and repel the Russian invasion, I’m convinced that the second half of the 21st century will look a great deal more like the first half of the 20th century.”
He doubled down on his position during his CNN town hall. After host Dana Bash pointed out that Mr Trump dodged answering the question of whether he wanted Ukraine to win the war, Mr Pence said, “Well, and frankly, when Vladimir Putin rolled into Ukraine, the former President called him a genius. I know the difference between a genius and a war criminal. And I know who needs to win in the war in Ukraine.”
He continued, “And it’s the people fighting for their freedom and fighting to restore their national sovereignty in Ukraine. And America, it’s not our war, but freedom is our fight. And we need to give the people of Ukraine the ability to fight and defend their freedom.”
“My former running mate, the governor of Florida and others are suggesting that the Supreme Court returned the question of abortion to the states,” Pence said in August at the Iowa State Fair.
“I truly do believe it’s vitally important that we seize the opportunity at the national level to advance protections for the right to life, and I’ll do so as president,” he added. “This is a really big issue. It will be on the stage in Milwaukee,” Mr Pence said, alluding to the first Republican debate, in which Mr Trump will not participate.
On pardoning Trump:
“I’ve been a governor, I’ve actually pardoned people,” said Mr Pence, according to the Des Moines Register. “And I think any pardon that you could conduct would only be appropriate to consider after somebody has been found guilty. And I don’t know why some of my competitors in the Republican primary assume the president’s going to be found guilty.”
On negative attacks:
Mr Trump has slammed Pence as “delusional” and of having “gone to the dark side” online. Mr Trump’s language has spread to his supporters, as one called Mr Pence a “traitor” while he visited the Iowa State Fair.
The former veep told ABC News that he was taking the opposite approach as his 2024 GOP rival: “Look, I know the former president pretty well. I think more and more Americans every day are getting to know us, getting to know our lifetime of commitment to the conservative agenda. And I’m very heartened by the fact – and you saw it at the Iowa State Fair this week – how many people come up to us on a regular basis and thank us for the stand that we took on that fateful day [on Jan. 6].”
“So I’ll be taking my record to the American people, and the president can continue to do what he does: He can continue to hold forth and level his broadsides,” Mr Pence continued. “But for me, I’m not going to engage in negative personal attacks.”
On voting for Trump:
“I don’t think I’ll have to,” Mr Pence said firmly at the CNN town hall, before he indirectly denounced the former president’s former actions: “I’m running for president because I don’t think anyone who ever puts himself over the Constitution should ever be president or should ever be president again.”
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