Former Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the Liberty University Convocation in Lynchburg on Wednesday, further fueling speculation that he could be considering a 2024 presidential bid.
While he never directly addressed his role in thwarting the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, Pence reminded students and faculty at a packed Vines Center of the importance of protecting and preserving the Constitution. “I urge you to let the Constitution be your guide, understand it, study it, learn it as Americans. Because you may well in your life be called upon in unique ways to defend it,” Pence said.
For the Republican from Indiana, who served as the 48th Vice President under former President Donald Trump, it was his third visit at Liberty University and his first after leaving office. Although he has not yet formally declared his intention to run for the nation’s highest office in 2024, in July he returned to Washington, D.C. on the same day as Trump, where both spoke at different conferences to outline their visions for America’s future.
Last month Pence visited the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, and, not surprisingly, much of his speech in Lynchburg Wednesday resembled a campaign event where he touted the accomplishments of the Trump administration while lashing out against President Joe Biden and what he called the Democrats’ “promiscuous woke-agenda.”
“For most of our history, both political parties committed to the ideals enshrined in the Constitution, but that’s no longer the case,” Pence said.
Reminiscing about a recent visit to Montpelier, the Orange County mansion that was the home of James Madison, the fourth U.S. president and “Father of the Constitution,” Pence painted a dark picture of a country nearly 250 years later where the founding document is under attack by “radical leftists” seeking to rewrite it and “redefine the liberties that are enshrined there in our Bill of Rights.”
Pence said as he stood in Madison’s study on the second floor, surrounded by books, on the second floor of that mansion, he heard about how the Founding Father “sat there, laboring in the months before the Constitutional Convention to construct a government built on the right understanding of human nature.” He used the moment to reiterate that it was his own sworn duty to protect the Constitution during his four years in the Trump administration.
“When I took that oath of office in January 2017, I placed my left hand on Ronald Reagan’s Bible, and raised my right hand. And I made a solemn promise to the American people that ended with a prayer, so help me God.”
Although he made no mention of his own crucial role in the certification of the 2020 presidential election, which Biden won by more than 8 million votes, Pence clearly implied that he thought he was doing right by the Constitution when he resisted Trump’s pressure to join in his scheme to overturn the election while rioters gathered outside the Capitol.
“It’s important to note that every office holder takes the very same oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Pence said. “As constitutional conservatives, the American people must know that we always keep our oath to the Constitution, even when it would be politically expedient to do otherwise.”
Pence’s actions on Jan. 6 have earned him the ire from many Trump supporters, some of which consider him a traitor, making a potential presidential run in 2024 an uphill battle among the former president’s staunchest supporters – especially while Trump himself continues to tease another potential bid for the Republican nomination.
“The conventional wisdom about Mike Pence is that the Trump base of the GOP will never accept him after his refusal to take unconstitutional actions on Jan. 6, 2021, to seize another term for Trump and himself,” said Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
“It may be that events still to unfold, legal or health-related, will change the calculus,” Sabato said. “After all, Pence aligned himself with all, or almost all, of the policies adopted by the Trump administration. So Republicans could get Trump policy without Trump’s disruptive personality. It seems unlikely now, but I’ve lived long enough to see lots of unlikely scenarios unfold.”
Although Pence evidently broke with Trump last month when he stated that he would consider testifying before the House Jan. 6 Committee if asked, the former vice president on Wednesday painted a more flattering picture of Trump by comparing him to former President Ronald Reagan.
“President Reagan was one of a kind. He’s universally admired today, but that was not always the case,” Pence said. “Before he was the ‘Great Communicator’ he was the ‘Great Disruptor,’ a conservative outsider who vigorously opposed the moderate Republican establishment of his day. But Reagan’s victory in 1980 breathed new life into the Republican party that changed the course of history for the nation and the world.”
Four decades later, America found itself in a similar position, Pence said. “President Donald Trump was also one of a kind,” he said, prompting cheers from the audience. Like Reagan, Pence said, Trump also disrupted the status quo and challenged the establishment. “There is now no turning back. Under the Trump-Pence administration, we achieved things that conservatives have been talking about for decades. We did it all by not backing down, by standing strong, and life and liberty was the anthem of our administration.”
In just a few short years, the Trump administration revived the economy, created 7 million good paying jobs, cut taxes and regulations, became a net-exporter of energy for the first time in 70 years, and reduced illegal immigration by 90%, Pence said.
“Under our administration we rebuilt our military, we restored the arsenal of democracy and gave our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guard and Space Force the resources they need to defend this nation. We took the fight to radical Islamic terrorists on our terms, on their soil. And American forces defeated ISIS and took down their leader without one American casualty.”
But perhaps the most consequential actions by the Trump-Pence administration, Pence said, was the appointment of nearly 300 conservative judges to federal courts, including U.S. Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. The latter on June 24 voted with a majority to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark piece of legislation that made access to abortion a federal right in the United States. The court’s decision dismantled 50 years of legal protection and paved the way for individual states to curtail or outright ban abortion rights.
“We sent Roe v. Wade to the ashes of history where it belongs,” Pence said to more applause from the audience. “Because of the courage of their convictions, we have been given a new beginning for life. But we must not rest and we must not relent until we restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law in every state in the nation.”
But because of “how times have changed” since Biden became president, Pence issued a “call to action” for Liberty students. “In one year, the Biden-Harris administration has unleashed a tidal wave of left-wing policies that are threatening to wipe out the progress that we made,” he said.
One of the “most troubling advancements” of the last year was the new administration’s “whole-hearted embrace of the woke left’s assault” on culture and values. “Under this administration, wokeism has run amok,” Pence said, citing what he called “liberal indoctrination” and the teaching of critical race theory in the nation’s public schools and universities.
Pence then lashed out against Biden for taking action against state laws that bar transgender athletes from sport. Biden in directives issued last year also ordered educational institutions receiving federal funding to recognize the rights of transgender students to join sports teams that correspond to their gender identity.
“President Biden in his State of the Union address pledged to defend the God-given right of men to compete in women’s sports,” Pence said, sparking loud booing from the audience. “Let me be clear, we will not allow the radical left to destroy women’s sports and opportunities. Participation in sports should be determined by one’s gender at birth as a matter of fairness and common sense,” he said as the crowd cheered.
But, in the “face of this onslaught,” the good news is help is on the way, Pence added. “Freedom loving Americans are fighting back, and American families are taking back our schools, our communities and our classrooms, starting right here in Virginia. It’s amazing to see parents standing up right here in Virginia electing a Republican governor, a Republican lieutenant governor, a Republican attorney general,” he said, referring to last year’s election of Glenn Youngkin, Winsome Sears and Jason Miyares.
Pence’s speech ended after 30 minutes, with many in the room cheering and chanting “USA, USA.”
Sabato, the UVA professor, said that the warm welcome that Liberty University extended to the former vice president was no surprise.
“Pence has always had a rock-solid base with Christian conservatives. Whatever they feel about Trump, or Jan. 6th, they will give a respectful hearing to Pence,” he said. “The audience will be overwhelmingly aligned with Pence on the issues, and maybe even some of the most pro-Trump listeners will see that Pence, as a former congressional leader, governor, and vice president, offers them another path in 2024.”
While this may not seem probable, “it is certainly possible,” Sabato said.