by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Wednesday, July 27, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 104 days away. Election Day 2024 is 832 days away.
Trump, Pence battle for GOP’s future as both return to Washington
Washington’s conservative elite — and political press corps — split into two on Tuesday, attending a pair of confabs at dueling Marriott hotels less than a mile apart from each other.
Former President Donald Trump reigned supreme at the Marriott Marquis, headlining a summit hosted by the American First Policy Institute, a “White House in waiting” set up by alumni of his administration to prepare for a possible return to power. It was his first visit to D.C. since leaving office.
Meanwhile, former Vice President Mike Pence — who served as Trump’s loyal sidekick for four years, only to break with him on the most consequential day of their administration — could be found at the nearby JW Marriott, delivering the keynote address at a conference put on by the Young America’s Foundation, a group of college-age conservatives.
I was in the room for Pence’s address, interested to see the reaction he would garner among the GOP’s next generation. As we both navigated the JW’s labyrinthine system of escalators, I ran into Marc Short, Pence’s former chief of staff and close adviser, just before the speech.
Was Trump’s speech across town on Pence’s mind at all? I wondered to Short. “No,” he replied, drawing out the word. “He always speaks at Young America’s conference and he’s excited to be here again this year. (Short declined to comment to me on his recent appearance before the federal grand jury investigating January 6.)
But, as is often the case in Washington, Trump was on the mind for just about everyone else. When Pence took questions from the approximately 250 students in attendance, the very first inquiry was about his relationship with the former president and whether a “divide” existed between the onetime ticket mates.
“I don’t know that the president and I differ on issues,” Pence responded, after describing his pride in the accomplishments of their administration. “But we may differ on focus. I truly do believe elections are about the future and it’s absolutely essential...that we don’t give way to the temptation to look back.”
That was representative of Pence’s posture toward his former boss throughout his address. The speech was devoid of the over-the-top praise for Trump that was once Pence’s hallmark rhetorical flourish, but he did pay homage when neccesary, expressing his gratitude for being named to the ticket and frequently extolling the record of the “Trump-Pence administration.”
Similarly, Pence’s speech did include a drive-by mention of “the tragic day in our nation’s Capitol,” but only in naming it as one of several ways “we’ve all been through a lot in the past few years.” He added the global pandemic and “a Democrat administration seemingly intent on weakening America” as some others.
In neither his speech nor his answer did Pence dwell on Trump or January 6, the “tragic day” when he narrowly escaped execution from a mob of Trump’s supporters. (“Well, the people were very angry,” Trump told an interviewer last year when asked about the “hang Mike Pence” chants.)
Trump’s speech, on the other hand, contained plenty of “looking back,” as Pence politely put it. “It was a catastrophe, that election,” Trump said, referring to the 2020 race, which he falsely claimed that he had won.
The former president also attacked his various investigators, from prosecutors in New York and Georgia to the January 6 committee. “If I renounced my beliefs, if I agreed to stay silent, if I stayed home and just took it easy, the persecution of Donald Trump would stop immediately,” he said. “But that’s not what I will do.”
To the extent Trump looked to the future — which is what elections are about, if you hadn’t heard — it was to preview a 2024 announcement. “We may just have to do it again,” he declared.
The twin addresses provided a clear preview of a possible primary race between the former allies. Trump’s address was laden with grievance, along with new-ish language on public safety, calling the U.S. a “cesspool of crime.”
Pence, meanwhile, hewed to policy, unveiling his “Freedom Agenda” for the 2022 elections. As Pence introduced the new platform, I noticed a pattern: he would name a traditional conservative policy, then follow it with a nod towards a more Trumpian culture war issue, then return back to his home base.
Support for more stringent abortion laws (“We save the babies, we’ll save America”) was followed by a call to “build the wall.” A mention of school choice was paired with a mention of critical race theory (“state-sanctioned racism”). His defense of Second Amendment rights came with a swing at “the radical gender left.”
This was Mike Pence for the MAGA era: cracking his familiar folksy jokes (“You can be the vice president of the United States of America, but you’re still going to wait 25 minutes for a table at Olive Garden”), but also adding in a quote of Andrew Breitbart.
Will the MAGA faithful accept this newer convert to the cause, even as some now view him as an apostate? Especially when they could just have the OG, who seems equally poised to run?
I put that question to some of the young conservatives who attended Pence’s speech. Many of them adopted Pence’s line that the two are largely aligned on the issues — but some did express a preference after a little nudging.
“Obviously, everyone’s going to be divided to some extent, but to me, in the things that matter, there’s not too much of a divide between them,” Anna-Frances Wilson, a student at Bob Jones University, said.
She added that she would support Pence in a 2024 primary contest, though: “He tends to be more level-headed,” she explained.
Nick Tuley, a Liberty University student, agreed that Trump is “more aggressive” — but that’s precisely why he would support him, describing Pence’s speech as too “politician-y.”
Unprompted, Tuley acknowledged that Trump would be 82 at the end of his second term. “Yeah, that’s really old,” he said. “But, again, it’s Trump. He’s one of the sharpest mentally and one of the sharpest people on the planet.”
Many of the students, however, said they felt it was time to move on from both of them. “I think the American people are ready for a younger president,” said Logan Whitcomb of St. Louis University, one of several students to mention Florida governor Ron DeSantis. (Pence, 63, did refer to his “fellow young Americans” during the speech, but apparently it didn’t stick.)
“I think it’s time for conservatism to move to something that is more principled,” said Andrew Breschard, the Gettysburg College student who asked Pence about Trump during the Q&A. “I think Trump had a purpose. I think he served it.”
Breschard, too, mentioned DeSantis as a potential “unifier for conservatives.”
Former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, a brief presidential candidate himself in 2016 and now the president of the Young America’s Foundation, predicted to me that 15 to 20 candidates would compete for the Republican nomination in 2024.
“We’ll see who takes the baton from that,” he said from the lunch buffet line, a plateful of chicken and sausages in hand.
Walker also painted the Trump-Pence contrast as a stylistic one, describing Pence as having a “Midwest-nice style,” while Trump is “a little bit more aggressive, in-your-face.” He flashed a grin and chuckled at his own understatement.
Another piece of Trump news that came yesterday...
DOJ examining Trump’s Jan. 6 actions
The Justice Department is investigating former President Donald Trump as part of its criminal probe into the January 6 riot and surrounding events, the Washington Post, New York Times, and other outlets reported Tuesday.
No criminal investigation has been opened into Trump directly, but prosecutors have begun asking witnesses about the former president’s actions as part of its broader probe. Here’s what you should know:
— Context: It had not been previously known that the DOJ investigation, which until now has largely focused on the individual Capitol rioters, had expanded into examining Trump personally.
— Quotable: “We will hold accountable anyone who is criminally responsible for attempting to interfere with the legitimate transfer of power from one administration to the next,” Attorney General Merrick Garland pledged in an NBC News interview on Tuesday.
— Details: According to the Post, the DOJ is specifically scrutinizing whether Trump participated in a conspiracy to obstruct a government proceeding (the January 6 Electoral College certification) or engaged in fraud (through a scheme to submit sham elector slates falsely stating he had won states that he lost).
— Related: Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is “in active discussions” with the House January 6 committee about possibly testifying behind closed doors, per ABC News.
What else you should know
Abortion: A near-total abortion ban is set to take effect in Wyoming today, making it the ninth state to almost completely prohibit abortions since Roe v. Wade was overturned last month. Six more states have near-total bans being blocked by the courts.
- Context: Three additional states have near-total abortion bans set to take effect soon, three states have implemented 6-week bans, and one has implemented a 15-week ban. All have Republican-controlled legislatures. Full map
Climate: Temperatures are soaring in Oregon and Washington while flash floods are wreaking havoc in St. Louis, just the latest in a summer filled with extreme weather events exacerbated by the effects of climate change.
Midterms: Democrats have jumped into another GOP primary to promote a far-right candidate, this time airing ads boosting John Gibbs’ challenge against Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI), who backed Trump’s impeachment.
- Context: Democrats and Republicans alike have criticized this risky strategy, which elevates right-wing candidates on the assumption they’ll be easier to beat in November — but also prods them closer to positions of power.
- Meanwhile: After a brief period as the frontrunner, disgraced former Gov. Eric Greitens is floundering in the Missouri Republican Senate primaries, according to three new polls showing him in third place. A GOP super PAC has spent millions trying to sink him ahead of the August 2 primary.
What’s going on in Washington today
All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch it.
President Biden will virtually receive his daily intelligence briefing (8:30 am). It has been six days since he tested positive for Covid; the president’s doctor said Tuesday that Biden’s symptoms “have now almost completely resolved” and that if he tests negative today, he will end his isolation.
Vice President Kamala Harris has nothing on her public schedule today, for the seventh weekday in the past month.
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will attend a ceremony dedicating a new Wall of Remembrance at the Korean War Memorial (9:50 am).
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold her daily press briefing (3 pm).
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell will hold a press conference (2:30 pm). He is expected to announce a 0.75 percentage point increase to the Fed’s benchmark interest rate, as part of an effort to combat soaring inflation.
The Senate will convene (10 am) and vote on passage of the $280 billion “Chips and Science” package, which includes $52 billion in subsidies to spur U.S. manufacturing of semiconductors, the tiny chips that power everything from smartphones and cars to medical equipment and weapons systems.
The chips are currently made mostly in China and Taiwan; backers of the package say it is a national security imperative for the U.S. to reduce its reliance on those countries for these essential componenes of digital life. The package, which advanced in a bipartisan 64-32 vote on Tuesday, also includes funding for scientific research and other technology initiatives.
-- Also: Defense and State Department officials will hold a classified briefing on the war in Ukraine for all members of the Senate (3:45 pm).
The House will convene (10 am) and vote on the South Asian Heart Health Awareness and Research Act, the Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act, and the Susan Muffley Act.
The measures would fund research on the dispropronate rate of heart disease among South Asians in the U.S., make permanent telehealth flexibilities under Medicare that were put in place during Covid, and reinstate pension payments for 21,000 retirees who had their plans terminated as part of GM’s bankruptcy in 2009.
Congressional committees will hold hearings on “ensuring U.S. global leadership for the 21st century” (9:30 am), “the role of the firearms industry in America’s gun violence epidemic” (10 am), “foreign and domestic sources of disinformation” (10 am), and “challenges facing global food security” (10 am).
-- Also: The Senate Commerce Committee will vote on the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act and the Kids Online Safety Act, two bipartisan bills which aim to increase digital privacy for minors and reduce the negative impacts they can face from social media platforms.
The Supreme Court is out until October.
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