Former Vice President Mike Pence has his work cut out for him when it comes to fusing former President Donald Trump’s MAGA movement with a more traditional brand of conservatism.
The massive challenge in front of him was on display Friday at the Faith and Freedom Coalition “Road to Majority” conference in Orlando where his introductory remarks were interrupted by shouts of “traitor!” from a small group of hecklers.
It has been clear that some diehard Trump supporters have yet to forgive Mr. Pence for refusing to take the unprecedented step as a vice president of refusing to allow Congress to certify the Electoral College vote in favor of President Biden — an authority that most constitutional scholars say he did not possess.
“I think that is a really tough spot for him to be in,” Craig Robinson, an Iowa-based GOP strategist, said before Mr. Pence visited Florida. “You already see some of the most fervent activists don’t want anything to do with him — almost like he is a traitor.”
“So you are going to have that drumbeat, and on the other hand he is going to be competing with newer fresher people,” he said of Mr. Pence and the rest of the field of possible 2024 GOP presidential contenders.
Mr. Trump has teased running again and would start as the clear front-runner, according to polls.
The polls also show Mr. Pence faces a bit of an uphill battle when it comes getting back into the good graces of Trump fans.
A Morning Consult tracking survey released last week showed 71% of Trump backers have a favorable view of Mr. Pence and 21% see him in an unfavorable light.
That compares to 86% of Trump 2020 voters that view the former president in a positive light.
The last Republican vice president to win the presidency was George H.W. Bush in 1988. Dan Quayle tried — and failed — to follow suit in 2000.
Mr. Pence has long been one of the biggest draws at Faith and Freedom Coalition events. He typically gets the star treatment.
So it was noteworthy that he got heckled by the evangelical crowd at the event — particularly as he delivered what has always been one of his most popular lines: “I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order!”
It also was out of the ordinary considering the warm reception that Mr. Pence received at recent public events, including in South Carolina and New Hampshire, where the crowds appeared to universally embrace him.
The Pence team downplayed the heckling, saying the few hecklers could barely be heard, and saying Mr. Pence received a warm welcome from the rest of the crowd.
Mr. Trump hasn’t done him any favors.
The nation’s 45th president has waged a relentless war on the election results and pressed GOP leaders in states across the nation to perform forensic election audits in states he lost to Mr. Biden.
Mr. Pence laid low for a few months following the tumultuous end of the Trump presidency before remerging with a new advocacy group dedicated to promoting and defending the achievements of the Trump administration.
Earlier this month, Mr. Pence for the first time publicly addressed his disagreement with Mr. Trump over the events of Jan. 6.
“As I said that day, Jan. 6 was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol, but thanks to the swift action of the Capitol Police and federal law enforcement violence was quelled, the Capitol was secured and that same day we reconvened the congress and did our duty under the Constitution and the laws of the United States,” Mr. Pence said at the annual Lincoln-Reagan Dinner in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he received rousing applause from attendees.
“You know President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office, and I don’t know if we will ever see eye to eye on that day, but I will always be proud of what we accomplished for the American people over the last four years, and I will not allow Democrats and or their allies in the media to use one tragic day to discredit the aspirations of millions of Americans.”
Mr. Pence spelled out in a letter in early January that he did not have the “unilateral authority” to do what Mr. Trump was demanding of him.
“It is my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not,” Mr. Pence said in the letter.
Mr. Pence said he shares voter’s concerns about voter fraud, but that his hands were tied.
Mr. Pence steered clear of the subject at the Faith and Freedom Conference, telling the audience that serving alongside Mr. Trump was the “greatest honor of my life,” calling on activists to rise up against Mr. Biden and the radical left, and touting the accomplishments of the “Trump-Pence administration.”
“For the past four years President Trump taught us what [representatives] can accomplish when we stand firm on conservative principles and don’t back down,” he said. “It was four years of promises made, and promises kept.”
Mr. Pence served as Mr. Trump’s loyal right-hand man, helping to bring a stabilizing presence to the White House and softening the president’s sharp political elbows.
The relationship has been strained by Mr. Trump’s insistence the election was stolen and that Mr. Pence could have single-handedly stopped the certification of Mr. Biden‘s victory.
“If Mike Pence does the right thing we win the election,” Mr. Trump told his followers at the time.
Things soured more after an angry pro-Trump mob — some chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” — stormed the U.S. Capitol to protest the results of the election, forcing Mr. Pence to be escorted from the Senate chamber.
Constitutional conservatives applauded Mr. Pence for refusing to heed Mr. Trump’s demand, but the hecklers in Orlando suggested Mr. Pence has to mend fences with a faction of the MAGA movement.
Time is on his side.
Mr. Pence used his address at the Faith and Freedom gathering to highlight achievements celebrated by social and religious conservatives, hammer the Biden administration and strike a patriotic chord.
“It is amazing to think in 2020 Joe Biden actually campaigned as a moderate, but he has governed as one of the most liberal presidents in American history,” Mr. Pence said. “I want to tell you from my heart I was out on that campaign trail, and I don’t believe for one moment that’s what the American people voted for in 2020.”
“They did not vote for open borders, rampant crime or giving away our prosperity, our freedom or future. So the time is now for freedom-loving patriots here and across the nation to come together and unite behind our proven agenda and win America back,” he said.