“If 2022 taught us anything, it’s that candidates that were focused on the challenges facing American families did well. But candidates focused on the past, on litigating the last election, did not do well,” Pence said in a veiled dig at Trump, according to the excerpts.
Trump pushed, and endorsed, many candidates who falsely said the election was stolen — and has continued to push those claims. He also was enraged by Pence’s refusal to attempt to assist him in overturning the results.
The speech came one night ahead of Trump addressing the party’s top donors here, and as several would-be candidates like Pence eye bids against the former president. He was expected to arrive at the hotel late Friday. Notably, DeSantis did not attend the event.
The retreat for some of the party’s top donors is often a bellwether of where the Republican elite is — not the grass roots that fuel Trump’s continued hold on the party. Over $28 cocktails in the riverfront Four Seasons hotel, some of the party’s top officials, donors and operatives milled about on Friday night, with some discussing Trump’s political future and the myriad investigations around him.
Among other Republicans speaking at the retreat besides Trump and Pence include Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Trump critic, and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a potential 2024 candidate who has taken on Trump.
Pence — who is expected to announce a bid for the presidency later this year — also criticized Trump for promising not to make changes to Social Security and Medicare, staking out a position that was once popular within the GOP that has become out of step in the current moment. Trump has sharply attacked any politician who vows to make cuts or changes to the programs and that position has become popular inside the party. Pence said cuts are necessary to balance the budget.
“And sadly, our former president has echoed Biden’s pledge not to touch Social Security. I think we owe my three granddaughters better,” he said.
Many in the GOP have called for less involvement and spending in Ukraine going forward as the war over the Russian invasion enters its second year, and polling has shown falling Republican support for defending Ukraine. Pence said the United States should continue to provide weapons to the country.
The U.S. should “give them the support they need to win, so we don’t have to fight ourselves.”
“We don’t have to choose between prosperity at home and security abroad. Those who claim we do have a pretty small view of the greatest nation on earth,” he said.
Pence also tweaked other Republicans for not doing more to limit abortion after Roe v. Wade was overturned last summer. In an interview earlier this year, longtime Pence adviser Marc Short said he believed Trump was vulnerable among conservatives for largely avoiding the issue.
Trump has generally eschewed talking about the issue, and while DeSantis signed a law on Thursday night banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, the Florida governor has spoken little about the bill.
“On the heels of the biggest pro-life victory in history, too many Republicans want to run away from the cause that has animated our party for half a century. The truth is, the battle for life is far from over — we have only reached the end of the beginning,” he said. “Having won a victory for the inalienable right to life, we must not now rest or relent until the sanctity of life is returned to the center of American law in every state in the land.”
Pence — who has trailed far behind Trump and DeSantis in 2024 polls — is expected to announce a bid for president later this year and has stepped up his criticism of Trump in recent months, particularly over the former president’s role in spreading falsehoods about the election and his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. He has struggled to gain traction even as he has repeatedly trekked to early 2024 states.
He did not mention either man by name, according to the prepared remarks, and much of his remarks reflected a traditional Pence speech.
Some people close to Pence say they hope the Republican base will embrace him after a nasty fight between Trump and other candidates.
“We need leaders with the courage to speak hard truths, and have faith that the American people will rally to our cause. We must resist the temptation to put what is popular over what is wise, and resist the politics of personality and the lure of populism unmoored to timeless conservative values,” Pence said.
The former president was expected to arrive at the Four Seasons on Friday night and is speaking Saturday night. DeSantis skipped the retreat, though some of his donors and allies milled about in the lobby of the swanky hotel.
Pence, once an obsequious vice president who would not even criticize Trump in private, has increasingly taken him on publicly as he eyes a bid. The two men have not spoken in more than a year, people close to them said.
At the Gridiron Dinner in Washington last month, Pence said he blamed Trump for “his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day. And I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”
Trump advisers say he holds some affection for Pence privately and note he has praised him publicly. But they say he does not see Pence as a threat as he does other candidates such as DeSantis, and has privately mocked him for his standing in the early polls.
On Friday, Pence was booed by some attendees at the National Rifle Association annual conference in Indianapolis, where Trump was also a speaker. “I love you, too,” Pence joked in response.
Trump took note as he took the stage shortly afterward.
“I hope you gave Pence a good warm approval,” Trump said. “No, because he is a nice man if you want to really know the truth, he is, he’s a good man. And I heard it was very rough.”
Dylan Wells in Indianapolis contributed to this report.