Monday , November 28 2022
Mike Pence urges conservatives to look forward as a Trump-shaped cloud hovers behind him.

Mike Pence urges conservatives to look forward as a Trump-shaped cloud hovers behind him.

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WASHINGTON — Red-and-blue spotlights flashed from the ceiling as former Vice President Mike Pence walked onstage. Anthemic music pumped from the hotel ballroom speakers surrounding him. A few audience members lifted cellphones to snap pictures.

But the festive hues and heavy bass couldn’t distract from the fact that, for many Republicans, the life of the party was just down the street in the nation’s capital, where preparations were underway for former President Donald J. Trump’s speech later in the day.

One of the most uncomfortable splits inside the Republican Party was on clear display on Tuesday as the two-time running mates — and potential rivals on the 2024 presidential campaign trail — were set to offer competing visions for the country from two Marriott hotels separated by less than a mile in downtown Washington.

Mr. Pence went first, giving a speech on Tuesday morning that left out the kind of effusive praise for Mr. Trump that he had regularly injected into his addresses as vice president. Instead, he drew subtle distinctions between Mr. Trump’s fixation on the 2020 election and his own preference to fight the next political battles.

“Some people may choose to focus on the past, but elections are about the future,” Mr. Pence said.

He made only passing reference to Jan. 6, 2021, as a “tragic day,” days after the House committee investigating the Capitol riot had detailed Mr. Trump’s refusal to call off the violence on Jan. 6, 2021, and the fear that members of Mr. Pence’s Secret Service detail felt for their lives.

The hearing prompted scathing editorials from two newspapers controlled by the Murdoch family: The New York Post said the revelations showed that Mr. Trump was “unworthy” to be president again, while The Wall Street Journal opined that Mr. Trump had “utterly failed” to handle the crisis.

And on Monday, news emerged that two of Mr. Pence’s top aides had testified to a federal grand jury in Washington as part of the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the events surrounding the riot.

In his speech, Mr. Pence repeatedly referred to the “Trump-Pence” administration’s accomplishments as he called for a movement of cultural conservatives to turn back a “pernicious woke agenda” that was, he argued, “allowing the radical left to continue dumping toxic waste into the headwaters of our culture.”

Mr. Pence celebrated the Supreme Court’s recent ruling eliminating the federal right to abortion, noting that the decision had been made possible because of three justices “appointed by the Trump-Pence administration.”

“We save the babies, we’ll save America,” he said.

A mild-mannered former governor of Indiana, Mr. Pence described himself as focused on the future and eager to tell President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia things he “didn’t want to hear.”

But he couldn’t escape the direct contrast with Mr. Trump. When Mr. Pence finished his speech, the first question from the audience of young conservatives at a Young America’s Foundation conference was about Mr. Trump “and the divide between the two of you.”

“I don’t know that our movement is that divided — I don’t know that the president and I differ on issues, but we may differ on focus,” Mr. Pence said.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence had been in somewhat regular contact after leaving office, speaking several times by phone in conversations that avoided discussion of the Capitol riot, according to their advisers. In an interview last year, Mr. Trump said that he had never told Mr. Pence he was sorry for not acting quicker to stop the attack — and that Mr. Pence had never asked for an apology.

But a rivalry has flared up behind the scenes.

On Monday, Mr. Pence announced that his book about his time in the administration, “So Help Me God,” would be published on Nov. 15. The book has been a source of tension with Mr. Trump, who, when he learned in early 2021 that Mr. Pence had a book deal, was still musing about obtaining one of his own.

But in most parts of the publishing industry, Mr. Trump was broadly seen as a risk. The former president seemed frustrated that Mr. Pence had gotten a deal, and within days of learning about it, he attacked the former vice president while speaking to a group of Republican donors at a Republican National Committee event at Mar-a-Lago, seizing on Mr. Pence’s refusal to do what Mr. Trump wanted on Jan. 6, 2021.

The two men’s paths have also differed this year along the midterm campaign trail. They have backed opposing candidates in several primary races, including the Republican governor’s contest in Arizona, which will be decided next week, and the party’s primary for governor in Georgia, where Mr. Pence’s pick, Gov. Brian Kemp, easily defeated his Trump-backed challenger, David Perdue.

Mr. Pence is widely seen as considering a presidential bid in 2024, but he would face stiff challenges.

In a New York Times/Siena College poll of Republican voters this month, just 6 percent said they would vote for Mr. Pence if the 2024 Republican presidential primary were held today, compared with 49 percent for Mr. Trump and 25 percent for Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

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