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Pence’s Trump speech is a eulogy for a dead Republican party

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Former Vice President Mike Pence really wants you to know that he gave a “major speech” at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire last week. And, indeed, he delivered his harshest rebuke yet to his former boss, his imitators and rising populism on the right.

Although he spent part of his speech rehashing Republican arguments about the Biden administration and waxing nostalgic about the Reagan era, Pence managed to deliver a scathing critique of the Trumpian, populist betrayal of conservative principles. And unlike some of his previous attacks, he called out Donald Trump by name.

He delivered his harshest rebuke to his former boss, his imitators and rising populism on the right.

But even if Pence intended his speech to be a manifesto for conservative restoration, it reads more like a eulogy for a bygone era. It was ultimately a nostalgic dead letter describing a party that no longer exists.

Pence insisted that the choice the Republican Party faced was existential: “If the new right-wing populism takes over and guides our party, the Republican Party as we have long known it will cease to exist. And the fate of American freedom would be uncertain.”

This choice is also binary, he insisted, because the gap between traditional conservatism and this new Trumpian populist was “fundamental” and “unbridgeable”.

Former Vice President Mike Pence at the Iowa State Fair on August 10.Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters file

Ignoring his own role in advancing, supporting and activating Trump’s right-wing populism, Pence presented himself as one of the last champions of Reagan-era conservatism. And this is where reality begins to set in. Behind this strong rhetoric lies a fundamental truth: Pence in 2024 is a man out of time.

Even though he faces multiple criminal charges, Trump continues to dominate the Republican primary field, while his former vice president had only 7% of the vote in the latest CNN poll.

It is therefore unlikely that Saint Anselm’s speech will change the trajectory of the race. Maybe Pence is aware that his campaign is doomed – and maybe he isn’t. But he’s clearly thinking about his legacy. And he’s decided the best way to rehabilitate that legacy is to spend what could be his final months in the spotlight, exposing all the ways the new GOP has abandoned the conservative principles that were once taken for granted in his party.

Conservatives once stood for limited government, a strong national defense, the free market, fiscal responsibility and traditional values, Pence said. But the new Republican populists – including Trump – now reject the free market, ignore deficits and embrace international appeasement.

These conservatives are no longer defenders of the Constitution. Instead, they are eroding norms, Pence said, alluding to Trump’s role in that erosion, as well as the former president’s so-called imitators.

But here again, Pence wants to have it both ways. He took credit for all the accomplishments of the “Trump-Pence administration,” but attempted to compare Trump of circa 2016 with Trump of 2023.

“When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016,” Pence said, “he promised to govern as a conservative. And that’s exactly what we did together.

Today, he argues, the new right-wing populists are following in the footsteps of feared progressives like William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long and Bernie Sanders. Worse yet, Trump and his ragtag group of populist wannabes are actually starting to seem…progressive.

“They argue that we can only end our domestic crises by abandoning our allies abroad,” Pence said. “Like the progressives, the populist Republican government should dictate how private businesses operate. » Speaking to his main rival Ron DeSantis, Pence told the audience in Saint Anselmo: “The governor of Florida even used the power of the state to punish companies that took a political stance with which he disagreed. disagree. »

Consciously echoing Ronald Reagan’s famous 1964 speech, “The Hour of Choice,” Pence insisted that “we have arrived at the Republican hour of choice.”

“It’s not conservatism,” the former vice president said. “It is republicanism that prioritizes power over principle.”

Consciously echoing Ronald Reagan’s famous 1964 speech, “The Hour of Choice,” Pence insisted that “we have arrived at the Republican hour of choice.”

But – as Pence knows well – the Republican Party has already chosen. He chose Donald Trump. He chose populism. He rejects traditional conservatism. And for four years, Pence stood by Trump and observed what was happening around him.

The time for choice is over. And, on some level, Mike Pence must know that.

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