Former Vice President Mike Pence is making his first public appearance since leaving office in the early presidential primary state of South Carolina Thursday, as he and other potential 2024 Republican candidates carefully test the waters with Donald Trump looming in the background.
Trump is holding out the possibility that he could run again in 2024, which is largely leaving the rest of the GOP field on tenterhooks, even as they have begun to make the rounds in early primary states.
The former vice president, who led the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, plans to tour the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine to discuss its contributions to the state’s Covid-19 response, meet privately with pastors in Columbia, and speak in the evening to the Palmetto Family Council, a social-conservative group.
The former vice president has kept a low profile since leaving office, and has kept his distance from his former boss.
One of his last public appearances was on the day a mob of Trump supporters, egged on by the president, stormed the U.S. Capitol as Pence was overseeing the counting of 2020 Electoral College votes for President Joe Biden. Pence was ushered into a secure room with his family inside the Capitol as the rioters erected gallows displaying his name for refusing Trump’s demands to reject votes for Biden. Pence also attended Biden’s inaugural ceremony.
Trump has continued to criticize Pence for refusing to ignore the election results. It appears that Pence, unlike other 2024 GOP contenders, is forging ahead whether or not he has Trump’s blessing. He is casting himself as the most Christian conservative candidate while also highlighting what he considers the Trump administration’s successes.
At the Palmetto Family Council gala, Pence was expected to “reflect on his faith and his commitment to restoring and protecting Americans’ most cherished liberties,” according to a statement from his office, and is meant to contrast with Biden’s vision of expansive government that he laid out in his address to Congress on Wednesday.
The South Carolina events will kick off a more public schedule for Pence, with one or more trips a week to support Republican candidates running in next year’s midterms and to promote his conservative agenda, according to a person familiar with Pence’s plans.
He apparently has not made the pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to visit Trump as many other ambitious Republican politicians have. And he declined to appear at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February with Trump and other leading Republicans.
He has joined the GOP establishment’s think tank, the Heritage Foundation, as a distinguished visiting fellow, launched the advocacy group Advancing American Freedom to promote his agenda and defend the Trump administration’s record, and he’s publishing two books, with the first expected to be released in 2023.
Pence, 61, also announced he had a pacemaker installed earlier this month.
In an interview on Fox Business on Thursday, Trump said he was “100%” considering running again in 2024, and he said on the Don Bongino Show podcast released on Wednesday that he’ll announce his decision “most likely right after” the 2022 midterms.
“He’s currently occupying this political purgatory,” said Kevin Madden, a senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, said of Pence. “He’s basically in position of just waiting for Donald Trump.”
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