Former Vice President Mike Pence answers questions at Washington and Lee University. Photo by Steve Hemphill.
Former Vice President Mike Pence answers questions at Washington and Lee University. Photo by Steve Hemphill.

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Former Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday evening that in the 2024 presidential election, the United States needs to send a different candidate to the White House.

And in addition to saying President Joe Biden has got to go, he’s not on board with former President Donald Trump returning.

“I just think we’re going to have better choices,” Pence said.

So, is he that better choice? …

“I promise to keep you posted,” he said prior to being the featured guest at Washington and Lee University’s 28th Mock Convention Spring Kickoff in the college’s University Chapel.

The Mock Con organizers didn’t get what they were hoping for — Pence said he is still in the decision process on whether he will run for president — but the audience were still treated to a campaign-esque address.

Pence gave remarks before a capacity crowd in the chapel, which outside of several program sponsors and VIPs, consisted of W&L students.

For now, the Indiana politician, who also served as a U.S. congressman and governor before accepting the invitation to be former President Trump’s running mate in 2016, said he’s enjoying his time as a private citizen.

Pence said he now mows his own lawn, drives his own car, and pumps his own gas (though he waited until later in the evening to gripe about the prices at the pump). He also admitted that he currently does not have the stature to clear a room – more specifically, a dining room.

“You can be a congressman from your hometown, you can be the governor of your state and you can even be vice president of the United States,” Pence said. “… But even with all that, you still have to wait 25 minutes for a table at Olive Garden.”

In his opening remarks, Pence touched on many of his conservative ideals that have remained generally unchanged during his political career. He blamed the current administration’s energy policies for higher gas prices, gave his complete support to Ukraine against what he calls a “Russian invasion,” encouraged fellow conservatives to keep up the fight against “wokeism,” praised the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade and brought back the talking point that before 2016 was as sacred to the Republican Party as the American flag on the lapel but waned during the Trump Administration — giving homage to President Ronald Reagan.

But with an audience of mostly college students, Pence used most of his time speaking on a policy he felt would be most relatable — cutting into what he perceives as runaway national debt.

“We need leaders that are willing to lead America back to fiscal responsibility and reform,” Pence said. “As I stand before this generation of people, you all deserve to know, today we have a national debt that’s the size of our nation’s economy. … Today our national debt is 100 times larger than it was in 1965, and the biggest driver as we try to cut spending are entitlements and the interest on that debt.”

Pence went on to say the problem, which he claims neither Washington liberals or even a number of members of his own party are willing to face, is the impending crisis of trying to fund both Social Security and Medicare benefits.

It’s unpopular, he said, to even address this right now, but he said the current system needs to be phased out over the next three decades. He didn’t give specifics on Tuesday but did offer a name.

“I like to say we need to replace the New Deal with a better deal,” Pence said. “… America needs this generation to become the leaders that our nation will require to face the challenges that we will take on in the 21st century.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence answers questions from Brett Baier of Fox News. Photo by Steve Hemphill.
Former Vice President Mike Pence answers questions from Bret Baier of Fox News. Photo by Steve Hemphill.

After Pence had his chance to speak his peace, Fox News chief political anchor Bret Baier joined Pence and led a Q&A session where he asked some of the questions he said the student body had submitted.

And while the former vice president had side-stepped saying much about the most recent ex-president, Baier steered the questioning back to President Trump.

As Trump awaits word on whether a New York state grand jury will indict him for breaking state finance laws involving his alleged involvement of keeping an extra-marital affair he had with a former adult film star, Baier asked Pence his feelings about the situation.

Pence said that he believes the possible indictment is a politically motivated act, but also encouraged the public to refrain from publicly protesting the decision.

“I’d encourage Americans to voice their frustration, express their concern about the prosecution just as I have, but protest in the immediate aftermath — I think they should think better of that.”

Baier, who obviously enjoyed the forum (he teased Pence several times about his multiple visits to early presidential primary and caucus states and gave his own Donald Trump impression – which Pence then called one of the better ones he’s heard), did his best to keep Pence’s responses directed toward the questions he asked.

Pence also offered a few light moments, including making light of the rogue fly that pestered him during his vice-presidential debate with current VP Kamala Harris, and the fact that one former vice president who spoke at a Mock Con event – Alben Barkley – died while giving his remarks.

“I will make sure you survive this,” Baier quipped.

On some of those subjects broached by Baier:

  • On the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021, Pence referred to the event as a riot and condemned what he called the vandalizing of the Capital and bodily harm inflicted on more than 100 Capitol police officers who were trying to keep the protesters out. However, he also said that while he believed there was not substantial fraud that might change the outcome, he did leave the door open to accept that people could have legitimate concerns about changes in the election process, which were made due to COVID-19 restrictions.
  • On national defense, Pence criticized the Biden administration’s handling of the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 and went on to say while he supports the American involvement in aiding Ukraine in its fight with Russia, he believes Biden is not doing enough, another posture that doesn’t have him in lockstep with several other prominent Republicans.
  • He called China “the greatest strategic and economic challenge facing the United States in the 21st century” and made the experience pitch in that he has met and spoken with both Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese supreme leader Xi Jinping.
  • On his belief that a second Trump presidency is not in America’s best interest, Pence did defend much of what he calls the “Trump-Pence agenda,” including lower taxes, a strong military, secure borders, forcing changes in trade agreements with China, Mexico and Canada, filling the courts with more conservative judges. However, he said he believes those goals can be reached in a more civil environment that was not always present during Trump’s administration.

Pence’s appearance continued the Mock Con’s tradition of bringing notable politicians and other speakers to the Washington and Lee campus. W&L says that more than 1,500 undergraduate students participate in the political research project that is conducted over three years.

Past events featured five former presidents (Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Biden). Pence was a perfect choice to help start the current cycle, according to Mock Con’s political chair, Foster Harris.

“We definitely enjoyed it and it was definitely a timely event – someone who might even run for president. So, it was probably one of the bigger speakers Mock Con has brought in recently,” said Harris, who is from Charlotte, N.C. “When they got to the student questions, you could see that we wanted to hear about the 2024 race. We weren’t necessarily expecting an announcement, but you could clearly see he’s getting closer to that.

“We also wanted him to start a discourse on campus. Whether you agree or not on a policy topic, that’s what Mock Con is all about – starting that dialog, getting students engaged in the out-of-power party’s political process as they hash out what their side’s going to want. Meanwhile, the other party has that bully pulpit in the White House. I think we achieved that tonight.”

The crowd at the Lee Chapel awaits former Vice President Mike Pence. Photo by Steve Hemphill.
The crowd at the University Chapel awaits former Vice President Mike Pence. Photo by Steve Hemphill.

Steve Hemphill has worked for more than 30 years as both a sports reporter and editor. He is the former...