NASHVILLE — Former President Donald Trump used an evangelistic conference here to ridicule former Vice President Mike Pence for supporting the Constitution on Jan. 6, 2021, choosing an audience that represents Pence’s political base as the venue to try to argue him. undermine.
“Mike Pence had a chance to be great. He had a chance to be historic,” Trump said in his first remarks about his former partner in power during the Jan. 6 committee hearings, revealing the intense pressure to which Pence resisted deciding to continue with his constitutional role certifying the election.”Mike didn’t have the guts to act.” He added, “Mike was afraid of everything he was afraid of.”
Trump also called Pence, who did not attend the conference, a “human treadmill” for his role in advancing the election process, saying he had considered calling him a “robot.” Trump’s own aides testified that they told the president that it would not be constitutional for Pence to decide to void the election.
Pence’s spokesperson did not provide an official response to Trump’s speech. Several people close to Pence have said they believe the weather will vindicate the former vice president’s stance on Jan. 6 among conservative voters, even as Trump continues to chastise him for refusing to step out of his ceremonial role as supervising the counting of the electoral college.
In an interview earlier this week, Marc Short, who was Pence’s chief of staff, said he believed Pence’s actions would ultimately work in his favor. “The story arc will lean towards what he did,” he said.
On Friday afternoon, Trump delivered the keynote address at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual Road to Majority conference, which served as a preview of what the 2024 GOP presidential field might look like. But Pence — as well as other potential presidential candidates – chose not to attend. Other than Trump, no other speaker mentioned the Jan. 6 proceedings during the early days of the conference.
The 90-minute speech was the first time Trump has in person rebutted the Jan. 6 committee’s deliberations, which have so far been released to the public in three dramatic installments. His remarks – and his attacks on Pence – were applauded by the conservative crowd.
The former president has aggressively attempted to refute the narrative of planned sedition emerging from the hearings. Trump told the conference he had hoped to defer the 2020 elections to state legislatures rather than nullify them outright, a move that experts say would have violated the Constitution.
Pence was also asked to address the convention but chose not to, said Ralph Reed, the organization’s founder, who is close to the two men. “If Mike Pence wanted to come in and wanted to offer a cue to these people, he could have done it,” Reed said during a lunch with reporters on Friday afternoon. “I’m not saying he should have.”
Reed said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was also invited but did not attend.
The conference represented the first major gathering of potential GOP 2024 candidates, giving them a chance to begin testing messages with one of the most influential audiences in Republican presidential politics: evangelical leaders and activists.
Attacks on President Biden and Democrats have focused on high inflation, high gas prices and references to the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Most added populist strains to their pitches, with barbs directed at big tech and corporate leaders. And all touched on cultural issues, lamenting the coronavirus protocols, school curricula and gender identity shifts the left is embracing.
Trump also hinted that he might seek the White House again, at one point thinking of “our next Republican president” and adding, “I wonder who it will be.” He paused as the crowd of around 2,000 gave him a standing ovation.
“Would anyone like me to run for president?” Trump asked, as the crowd whistled, cheered and some began chanting ‘USA’
But he wasn’t the only one testing the waters. Senator Tim Scott (SC) who addressed the crowd on Friday morning, walked back and forth on the ballroom stage and predicted that Republicans would win House and Senate majorities in November, then, raising his hands, he added, “And then in two years – I have a dream”, a reference to the Reverend Martin Luther King.
He paused for applause, then described the dream of GOP control in Washington. “We’ll show America how you recover from a punch,” Scott said.
Sen. Rick Scott (Florida), another Republican eyeing a 2024 race who leads the GOP’s campaign arm in the Senate, said he felt optimistic about the GOP’s chances in November. “The backlash is coming,” he said.
Scott also referenced his controversial plan to raise federal income taxes for about half of Americans.
The plan was widely seen as an attempt to open up a presidential platform, and Democrats clung to it as proof that the GOP would implement tough policies on the poor. “It’s not for the faint-hearted,” the Florida senator said. “This will strike fear into the hearts of some Republicans.”
Reed’s group made a major effort to reach out to Hispanic religious leaders, bringing in several hundred of them. Some of the first words in the program were in Spanish. A “Night of Prayer and Adoration” included two prayers spoken in Spanish and translated into English and a Cuban orchestra.
The three-day conference is taking place in a well-air-conditioned ballroom at the sprawling Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville. Vendors outside the conference room were selling iodine pills to protect against the effects of a nuclear fallout ($35 for a seven-day supply) and pro-Trump t-shirts, including one highly sold bearing the phrase “Trump told you then.” A booth promoted pregnancy counseling services.
Potential GOP presidential candidates have portrayed Democrats as more than the opposition, but as an almost un-American force that doesn’t love the country. “The left wants nothing less than a revolution,” said Nikki Haley, ambassador to the UN under the Trump administration, during Thursday’s keynote address. “Theirs will be the opposite of 1776. They take us back.”
Scott went further: “Our country’s militant left has become the enemy within.” He paused to let the audience absorb his message. “You think that’s pretty dramatic, don’t you?” To call them the enemy within.
Scott suggested that the country needs corporal punishment. “A switch is a southern form of encouragement,” he said, after explaining how his mother used to hit him with a switch to get him to focus more on school. “Sometimes I look at our country today and think we need a new kind of encouragement.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (Ohio), who said he hoped Trump would run again, also addressed the topic. “The left doesn’t like the country,” he said. “They don’t like people who make and grow and move things around.”
Several spoke about Ukraine, with Haley recounting how she broke protocol by meeting the Ukrainians before meeting the Russians as a UN ambassador. She has used her admiration for Ukrainian fighters to highlight what she says is a relative lack of patriotism she feels in America.
“I have a confession,” Haley said. “I look at the Ukrainian people and realize that we had that kind of patriotism. It was us. We had this great American spirit and we have to get it back.
There will be other speakers, including Senate candidate Hershel Walker of Georgia, who will take the stage on Saturday.
In addition to directing anger at Pence, Trump also raged about other former advisers who testified, including Short, Bill Stepien and former attorney general William P. Barr, according to two people who spoke under the guise of anonymity to discuss private conversations, and largely focused on hearings even as some of his advisers tried to downplay his interest.
During his Friday speech, Trump alleged that Barr was too afraid of impeachment to intervene on his behalf. “Bill Barr was afraid of certain things. You know what they are,” Trump said.
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