Mike Pence refutes Trump in speech condemning Putin ‘apologists’ in GOP, calls for end to ‘relitigating’ 2020 election

‘We cannot win by fighting yesterday’s battles, or by relitigating the past’

Graig Graziosi
Saturday 05 March 2022 13:34 GMT
Donald Trump calls Putin ‘smart’ and American leaders ‘dumb’ during CPAC speech

Former Vice President Mike Pence has called on his fellow Republicans to drop conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and admonished them – perhaps indirectly – of former President Donald Trump for praising Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Pence gave the speech on Friday night to the GOP's top donors at a fundraising event in New Orleans.

In one part of the speech, Mr Pence refuted Mr Trump's fraudulent claims that the 2020 election was stolen. After numerous recounts and high profile vote audits, Mr Trump has never been able to stand up his claims.

“We cannot win by fighting yesterday’s battles, or by relitigating the past,” Mr Pence said.

Mr Pence also took aim at conservatives who have praised Mr Putin, despite the near-global condemnation of his decision to invade Ukraine.

“There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin,” the former vice president said. “There is only room for champions of freedom.”

One of those apologists is Mr Trump.

Mr Trump called Mr Putin a "genius" for proclaiming the Luhansk and Donetsk regions "independent" during an interview on a conservative radio show.

“I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine – of Ukraine. Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” Mr Trump said.

Mr Trump doubled down on the comments the next day during a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago.

“They say, ‘Trump said Putin’s smart.’ I mean, he’s taking over a country for two dollars’ worth of sanctions,” he said. “I’d say that’s pretty smart. He’s taking over a country – really a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people, and just walking right in.”

The former president made similar comments during the CPAC conservative conference.

“Yesterday reporters asked me if I thought President Putin is smart. I said of course he’s smart,” he said. “The problem isn’t Putin is smart — which of course he is smart — it’s that our leaders are dumb.”

He extended that criticism to other leaders within NATO as well.

Mr Trump was naturally met with widespread condemnation from liberals, but some conservatives were less willing to admonish the former president, as he is still far and away the most popular potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate. His endorsements for regional elections are also highly sought after.

Senator Lindsey Graham – who called for Mr Putin to be assassinated – tried to cover for Mr Trump by saying the former president made a "mistake" praising the Russian president.

Senator Tom Cotton, a warhawk himself who once called for the US military to be used against racial justice demonstrators, refused to condemn the former president even after being pressed four times to do so.

“If you want to know what Donald Trump thinks about Vladimir Putin or any other topic,” Mr Cotton told ABC’s This Week, “I’d encourage you to invite him on your show. I don’t speak on behalf of other politicians. They can speak for themselves.”

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who commands the largest audience of the Republican base in all of conservative media, suggested Ukraine was not a democracy and said he was rooting for Russia, drawing condemnation from some conservative lawmakers. His words have been translated and played on Russian state TV to project Western support for Mr Putin’s cause.

Mr Pence earned a good deal of hatred from his base after he refused to go along with Mr Trump's scheme to refuse to certify the electoral college votes on 6 January, 2021 – an action Mr Pence could not have taken even if he agreed with the move.

"Hang Mike Pence" trended on Twitter following the Capitol riot that same day, a response from Republicans who thought the former vice president had betrayed Mr Trump.

It's unclear how Republicans will respond to Mr Pence's demand that the party leave 2020 election conspiracies behind.

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