Former VP Mike Pence launches 2024 bid, criticizes Trump’s Jan. 6 actions

By: - June 7, 2023 3:34 pm

Former Vice President Mike Pence launched his 2024 presidential campaign in Ankeny Wednesday, June 7. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Former Vice President Mike Pence announced his candidacy for president to a crowd at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, focusing on the differences between him and former President Donald Trump, who is also running again in 2024.

While Pence praised the conservative successes he and Trump achieved in office, he said he is challenging the former president because of their “different visions” for the country’s future, and his promise to uphold the Constitution.

During the Capitol insurrection Jan. 6, 2021, Trump “demanded I choose between him and the Constitution,” Pence told the crowd.

Former Vice President Mike Pence formally announces his presidential run during an event June 7, 2023, at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

“Now voters will be faced with the same,” Pence said. “I chose the Constitution.”

Pence said he stands by his decision to ensure the “peaceful transfer of power.” He said his candidacy is not just to stop Democrats from “trampling” over the Constitution, but to restore the Republican Party to the party that defends the U.S. Constitution.

“The American people must know the leaders in the Republican Party will keep our oaths to support and defend the Constitution, even when it’s not in our political interest,” Pence said. “I believe that anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States. And anyone who asks someone else to put them over the Constitution should never be president of the United States again.”

Pence: Indictment would send ‘terrible message’

Later, at a CNN town hall held at Grand View University in Des Moines, Pence said he hoped Trump would  not be indicted in connection with a federal investigation into classified documents found at his residence. While Pence repeated that he believes “no one is above the law,” he argued such an indictment would harm the country.

“This kind of action by the Department of Justice, I think, would only fuel further division in the country and let me also say, I think it would also send a terrible message to the wider world,” Pence said.

Pence said he believes those who rioted in U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 should be prosecuted and he would not pardon them if he become president. He wouldn’t say, however, whether he would pardon Trump if the former president were convicted of a crime.

“I don’t want to speak about hypotheticals,” Pence said, before drawing a laugh from the audience by adding: “I’m not sure I’m going to be elected president of the United States. I believe we have a fighting chance. I really believe we do.”

Pence enters crowded field

Friends, family and supporters from Indiana joined Iowans to officially welcome the former vice president to the 2024 Republican field. It’s far from Pence’s first time this year on Iowa caucus trail – he has been coming to Iowa for several months, including a motorcycle ride and speech Saturday at U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst’s “Roast and Ride.” But his event at the community college’s FFA Enrichment Center was his first as a presidential candidate.

Pence is entering a crowded field. In addition to Trump, the former vice president will face at least nine other Republicans including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum also entered the race Wednesday.

The Indiana Republican criticized other Republicans for “retreating” on their anti-abortion positions, called for supporting Ukraine against the Russian invasion and said entitlement programs like Social Security need urgent reform.

John Paul Strong, an 81-year-old veteran from Des Moines, said he wanted to hear more from Republican presidential candidates on their plans to address veterans’ issues. He said while candidates like DeSantis have brought up military service on the campaign trail, he has not heard plans to address problems with older veterans’ accessing retirement or Social Security benefits, getting care at Veterans’ Affairs hospitals and finding STEM job training.

Strong said he was hopeful Pence could address these issues, pointing to his track record on veterans’ issues as Indiana governor when he supported multiple measures helping veterans enter the workforce. He said Pence has an opportunity to present a strong message that appeals to evangelicals that doesn’t rely on “hate,” contrasting with candidates like former President Donald Trump.

But Pence will have to fight to differentiate himself from the growing field of 2024 GOP candidates, Strong said.

“There are some of these people who are just running to run,” Strong said. “It’s going to be a matter of who drops off, and who can keep holding on.”

While voters at Pence’s kick-off event were supportive of the former vice president’s campaign, he may face difficulty gaining ground with people who still support Trump. Jayne Hawkes, a Des Moines resident, said at a DeSantis campaign event said she’s looking for a “Christian conservative” to support, but said she was not sold on Pence.

“He has to be more bold and outspoken on some things,” Hawkes said. “That’s what I need from him.”

Other critics say Pence may fail to gain traction because he does not have the personality and presence of GOP candidates like Trump. But Indiana House Speaker Todd Huston, when introducing Pence, said he looked forward to Iowa voters getting to know Pence. Huston said he read that someone called the former Vice President “mayonnaise on toast.”

“Let me just suggest this: I think you’re gonna get to know the Mike Pence that we know,” Huston said. “… And there’s a lot of Iowa bacon and maybe even some Tabasco sauce on that toast too.”

Iowa Democratic Party chair Rita Hart said Pence will push for banning abortion, cutting Social Security and undermining “our most basic freedoms,” the same as other 2024 candidates.

“Mike Pence has long championed one of the most extreme, anti-middle-class agendas in Congress and Indiana,” Hart said in a statement Wednesday. “Now, after serving as Donald Trump’s wingman in Washington, he’s looking to take the failed Trump-Pence policies that caused average farm income to fall to near 15-year lows and weakened our middle class even further.”

This story has been updated to correct the name of Grand View University.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.