Republican agendas clash in D.C.
Pence and Trump announce similar platforms—but now as potential rivals
WASHINGTON—Nothing out of the ordinary on the street denoted a political presence at the Marriott Marquis on Massachusetts Avenue in the nation’s capital on Tuesday morning. But just a quick escalator ride down to the second basement level, the first summit of the America First Policy Institute (AFPI) bustled with activity. Banners proclaimed agenda items like limiting government oversight, creating energy independence, and “draining the swamp.” AFPI, composed mostly of former Trump administration staffers, concluded its two-day event with an afternoon speech from former President Donald Trump himself.
Less than a mile away, former Vice President Mike Pence headlined a morning address to roughly 300 college students at the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) annual conference at the JW Marriott, directly across from the White House. The two prominent Republicans outlined similar agendas, but Trump’s continued focus on the 2020 election has driven a wedge between them. The high-profile appearances indicate both are likely considering presidential runs in 2024.
Pence was slated to announce his agenda at the Heritage Foundation on Monday, but he said weather delays gave him the chance to deliver it to “the freedom generation” of YAF attendees on Tuesday instead. He advocated for a reversal of the Left’s “woke agenda” by removing critical race theory from schools, installing pro-life protections in every state, and increasing military funding.
In recent House committee hearings on the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, former White House staffers testified that Pence and legal counsel informed Trump that he had no constitutional authority to reject the 2020 election results. As rioters broke into the Capitol, Trump tweeted that Pence was a coward. While Pence avoided speaking about his former boss specifically, he said he was proud of the Trump-Pence administration’s conservative record in response to a student’s question about divisions in the party.
“I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to serve as vice president. I don’t know that the president and I differ on issues,” Pence answered. After a pause, he admitted with a smile, “but we may differ on focus. But I truly do believe that elections are about the future.”
Most students told me Pence inspired them to vote for conservative Republicans and look for solutions to problems like high gas prices and free speech censorship. But some also wished Pence had departed from his moderate tone to address the elephant in the room.
“I really like the agenda, but I thought he spoke too softly of the division within conservatism,” Bushnell University student Xanti Celaya said. “I wish he would have addressed the conservative populist wing and Trump’s leadership of it. I wish he would have condemned the idea of Trump running for another term.”
Houston Baptist University student Kathy Stewart said she appreciated the future-focused message and will likely vote for Pence if he runs: “I keep asking myself this question. Trump is too polarizing, and I feel like Mike Pence gives a better impression and political balance as a president.”
Pence credited the creation of his four-pronged “Freedom Agenda” to his new organization, Advancing American Freedom. He praised AAF’s board of advisers, specifically Newt Gingrich, Kellyanne Conway, and Scott Walker—each of whom was a VIP attendee at Trump’s speech that day.
Over at the AFPI summit, attendees ranged from political staffers to out-of-state conservatives to current lawmakers. Most dodged questions about Pence’s possible run but praised Trump’s presidential record.
Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, a panelist, told WORLD, “The more the merrier for whoever wants to advance conservative policies. But one thing you can say about President Trump: He fought the swamp and the swamp bit back. But I’m focused on the midterms because if we can’t stop Biden’s agenda, there may not be an America to save for the next president.”
In his roughly 90-minute speech, Trump promised there would be a Republican president in 2024 and hinted that it might be him.
The address mostly focused on public safety, with the former president sharing anecdotes of violent crime, criticizing homeless encampments in cities, and urging the government to boost military and police funding. He presented a plan to move homeless people into high-quality tent camps on the edges of cities, equipped with sanitary, medical, and professional services. Trump also touted his international dealings and advocated for stricter penalties for drug trafficking across the border. He praised countries that allow the death penalty for drug dealers.
“There is no longer respect for the law, and there certainly is no border,” Trump claimed. “Our country’s now a cesspool of crime. We have blood, death, and suffering on a scale once unthinkable because of the Democratic Party’s effort to destroy and dismantle law enforcement.”
“Kevin, you’re going to have to handle that,” Trump said to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sitting in the front few rows. “But you still need somebody in the White House. You need help, and I think that help will be forthcoming much sooner than people think.”
Trump delved into transgender policies, education, COVID-19, media bias, the House committee hearings on Jan. 6, inflation, Democratic persecution, and the 2020 election.
“I’m a politician, I guess, because I ran for president. I won. And I won the second time much better,” he said, repeating allegations that millions of votes for Biden should have counted for him. “What a disgrace it was, but we may just have to do it again.”
At several intervals, attendees yelled out, “Welcome home, Mr. President!” and, “We love you!” At the conclusion, the audience of 400 or more rose in a standing ovation and chanted, “Four more years, four more years.”
Sheriff Thomas Hodgson of Bristol County, Mass., rose several times to applaud Trump’s comments on support for law enforcement. He said his own county has been dealing with more drug overdoses and deaths from fentanyl sourced from the Mexican border. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Mexico and China are the top sources of illegal fentanyl.
“Trump said he was going to reclaim the rule of law, and he accomplished it. But this new administration has unraveled all the great work that President Trump’s done,” Hodgson told me.
Hodgson hesitated about picking between Trump and Pence if they both ran in 2024, mostly because their positions are so similar: “I’ve worked with President Trump and Vice President Pence at the same time, and I know where they both stand on the issues. They’re both very focused on the very same thing.”
Rebecca Dunn, a trustee at the Dunn Foundation in Washington, said listening to Trump’s summaries of his administration’s work reminded her of positive successes under his leadership.
“I have respect for Pence, but Trump speaks to what is in the hearts of people who love America, and he doesn’t hold back,” Dunn said. “If Trump is our candidate, I will vote for him.”
At their separate events, both Pence and Trump promised, “The best is yet to come.”
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