Mike Pence on Wednesday became the second Republican in as many days who was nearly killed by Donald Trump to enter the 2024 presidential race, using his announcement speech to offer his harshest criticism yet of his former boss’s coup attempt.
“Anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States, and anyone who asks someone else to put them over the Constitution should never be president of the United States again,” the former vice president said in his Iowa remarks.
Pence, who refused Trump’s demand that he declare Trump the winner of the election he had actually lost by 7 million votes, has been slowly ramping up his denouncements of Trump’s actions leading up to and on Jan. 6, 2021, over the past two years.
“The former president continues to insist that I had the right to overturn the election. President Trump was wrong then, and he is wrong now,” he said.
Trump’s campaign did not respond to HuffPost’s query about the comments. During a recent CNN town hall, he repeated again that Pence should have overturned the election for him.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who contracted a near-fatal case of COVID after Trump participated in an autumn 2020 debate prep session despite having tested positive for the disease earlier that day, announced his candidacy on Tuesday.
Months later, the mob of Trump’s supporters he told to march on the Capitol came within yards of encountering Pence as his security detail worked to move him to a safer spot in the building. Trump had minutes earlier sent them into a rage by posting on social media that Pence had lacked the “courage” to overturn the election, and many were roaming the halls chanting: “Hang Mike Pence.”
“On that fateful day, President Trump’s words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol,” Pence said, repeating a line from his pre-campaign memoir, “So help me God.”
Wednesday night at a CNN “town hall,” Pence said that he had “no interest” in pardoning those among Trump’s mob who broke the law. “We cannot ever allow what happened on Jan. 6 to happen again. I have no interest or no intention of pardoning those who assaulted our police officers or invaded the Capitol.”
Trump has in recent months been glorifying those who participated in the Capitol assault and has even recorded a video with more than a dozen of those facing charges for assaulting police officers.
Pence also told CNN’s Dana Bash on Wednesday that he hoped that federal prosecutors would not wind up charging Trump for withholding top-secret documents in defiance of a subpoena. He has previously said he didn’t believe Trump committed a crime for his post-election actions because it was not illegal to take bad advice from lawyers.
In his announcement speech earlier, Pence also criticized Trump more generally for his lack of traditional conservative values, particularly regarding abortion.
“When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, he promised to govern as a conservative, and together we did just that. Today, he makes no such promise,” Pence said, pointing out that Trump’s appointment of three anti-abortion justices to the U.S. Supreme Court led to the overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision last summer.
“After leading the most pro-life administration in American history, Donald Trump and others in this race are retreating from the cause of the unborn,” Pence said. “The sanctity of life has been our party’s calling for half a century, long before Donald Trump was ever a part of it. Now, he treats it as an inconvenience, even blaming election losses on overturning Roe v. Wade.”
After most of Trump’s preferred candidates lost key Senate races in last autumn’s midterms after they championed his election lies, Trump instead blamed the abortion ruling and the failure of anti-abortion activists to plan for it.
Within minutes of finishing his speech, Pence appeared on Fox News and said he would support whoever becomes the Republican nominee for president. CNN’s Bash asked him how he could make that promise, given his statements about Trump and the possibility that he could become the nominee.
“Because I don’t think Donald Trump’s going to be the nominee of the Republican Party,” he said. “I have great confidence in Republican primary voters.”
Pence’s attacks on Trump means he will likely face at least two harsh critics on the primary debate stage on the matter of his coup attempt. Christie has also said Trump’s post-election behavior makes him an unacceptable choice for Republicans.
Trump is facing two criminal investigations into Jan. 6: One by Georgia prosecutors looking into his attempts to overturn his loss in the state and a broader one by the U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ is also investigating Trump for his retention of top-secret documents at his Florida country club while a New York prosecutor has already indicted Trump for falsifying business records to hide a $130,000 hush-money payment to a porn star ahead of the 2016 election.
Despite all this, Trump continues to lead the others in the 2024 field by wide margins as he seeks his old job back.