Pence Attacks Trump Without Attacking Trump

One can see the faintest hint of a backbone in the former Vice President.

AP (“Pence hits Trump: No room in GOP for ‘apologists for Putin’“):

Former Vice President Mike Pence urged Republicans to move on from the 2020 election and declared that “there is no room in this party for apologists for Putin” as he further cemented his break from former President Donald Trump.

Pence, in a speech Friday evening to the party’s top donors in New Orleans, took on those in his party who have failed to forcefully condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

“Where would Russian tanks be today if NATO had not expanded the borders of freedom? There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin,” Pence said, according to excerpts from the speech, which was closed to reporters. “There is only room for champions of freedom.”

Pence did not directly reference the former president. But Trump has repeatedly used language that has been criticized as deferential to Putin, including calling the Russian leader “smart” while insisting the attack never would have happened on his watch.

Pence also continued to push back on Trump’s lies about the 2020 election as he lays the groundwork for a possible 2024 presidential run. Trump, who has been teasing his own comeback bid that could potentially put the two in direct competition, has continued to falsely insist that Pence had the power to overturn the 2020 election, which he did not.

“Elections are about the future,” Pence said. “My fellow Republicans, we can only win if we are united around an optimistic vision for the future based on our highest values. We cannot win by fighting yesterday’s battles, or by relitigating the past.”

Pence has been increasingly willing to challenge Trump — a dramatic departure from his deferential posture as vice president.

Pence has said the two men will likely never see “eye to eye” on the Capitol insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump supporters stormed the building in an effort to stop certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. Last month, he directly rebutted Trump’s false claims that he, as vice president, could have overturned the results, telling a gathering of lawyers in Florida that Trump was “wrong.”

Still, he joined the oft-stated view of Trump and others in the Republican Party Friday evening in blaming President Joe Biden for Putin’s actions, accusing the current president of having “squandered the deterrence that our administration put in place to keep Putin and Russia from even trying to redraw international boundaries by force.”

“It’s no coincidence that Russia waited until 2022 to invade Ukraine,” Pence said, according to excerpts. “Weakness arouses evil, and the magnitude of evil sweeping across Ukraine speaks volumes about this president.”

While Pence allies believe that he can forge a coalition that brings together movement conservatives, white Evangelical Christians and more establishment-minded Republicans, Trump’s attacks on Pence have made him deeply unpopular with large swaths of Trump’s loyal base, potentially complicating his bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

Pence is an odd duck. On the one hand, he’s been a Trump toady. On the other, we should at least be grateful that he refused to help Trump steal the election—and that he wasn’t killed for his trouble by the mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6.

That he continues to push back, without much impact, on the Big Lie is a good thing. That he bizarrely refuses to actually criticize Trump by name, though, is cowardice without upside.

Criticizing Biden as weak on the Russia front is, I suppose, politics. But it’s rich coming from the right-hand man of Putin’s lackey, who did more to damage NATO than any US President in the alliance’s 70-year history

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. CSK says:

    I think Pence is beginning to realize that he has no shot whatsoever at the presidency–the MAGAs hate his guts–and so is more willing to speak out, although not nearly loudly enough.

    Trump, by the way, called golfer John Daly yesterday to assure him that although he and Putin were friends, he wouldn’t have hesitated to “hit” Moscow. How or why, he didn’t say.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “There is only room for champions of freedom.”

    Says he of the anti democracy party that stands in favor of book banning, limiting the freedom of speech, and an end to sexual freedom. No doubt a few other things that don’t come to mind just now.

  3. Joe says:

    I wish Pence would pick a lane. I appreciate that he is at least willing to summons some idea of Republicanism that isn’t based on Trump. That will make him a sacrificial lamb. He is never going to be President. He is never going to be the next leader of the Republican Party. I wish he would just go for it and make the case and fight the fight that there is some purpose for the Republican Party other than kowtowing to Trump. I am not optimistic.

  4. Barry says:

    What gets me is that Pence is like a Mafia guy whose chief put out a public hit on him. There is no going back home after that.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    At WAPO Dana Millbank has a column titled Have you heard about how Bill Barr saved democracy? Let Bill Barr tell you. I expect Pence’s ghostwriter has a similar book in the works. He’s not developing a backbone, but he may be a pretty good weather vane. Another little bit of evidence the GOPs will succeed in memory holing TFG.

    @CSK: Nah. Pence reportedly thinks God wants him to be prez. He still thinks Chuckles Koch will give him enough money and that God will deliver a miracle.

  6. CSK says:

    Yes, but Pence has to know that the MAGAs believe he’s a traitor, and since they vote in the primaries, they’ll never, ever get behind him. He has no chance. There are no miracles for him.

  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    Does this poor dumb bastard actually think he has a future in politics? He needs to look at opening a car dealership in Muncie.

    On a related note, this is why the GOP needs its sane political consultants back. A deaf, dumb and blind chimpanzee could have told them not to praise Putin. Team Blue media consultants are searching up every nice thing any Republican has ever had to say about Putin so they can attach it to horrific pictures from Ukraine.

    In ways that are hard to explain because it’s all wisps and whispers, I think Ukraine has turned the page on MAGA. The grown-ups are doing important foreign policy. Joe Biden is leading the West and their fading bleats about stolen elections sound ever more insane.

  8. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    But all those pictures from Ukraine are fakes, or pictures of horrific events that happened elsewhere, at different times. Didn’t you know that? The media is conspiring with Biden and the Deep State.

  9. Scott F. says:

    Pence lost his one and only chance at the presidency when he didn’t fully back Trump’s first impeachment. He’d have only been in the Oval for the remainder of TFG’s term, but he did have a small opening and he missed it.

  10. gVOR08 says:


    He (Pence) has no chance. There are no miracles for him.

    I just said Pence believed it, not that it’s rational for him to do so. (Fearing I might start an unending thread on whether Pence is irrational.)

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Republicans may have turned the page on FG’s face being on it, but when the tax reductions for the rich, white supremacy, anti-democracy, racism, regulation gutting, social net shredding, support and admiration of oligarchy and oligarchs, border mania, and all the rest of it start getting shunned, come back and we’ll talk.

  12. CSK says:

    @Scott F.:
    Indeed. I wonder why he didn’t take the gamble? I’m sure he loathes Trump. Nobody likes him except for his deluded fans, who don’t know him.
    Oh, I know. But he must be really stupid if he thinks he has a chance.

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @CSK: He’s really stupid.

  14. Gustopher says:

    My idiot brothers, who are about waist deep in MAGA bullshit, haven’t sent me anything about Ukraine. The closest is a gif that says:

    I’m not a Putin defender but it’s hilarious to see all the world leaders who shut their countries down and arrested people for not wearing a mask call Putin a dictator.

    I am not as hopeful as @Michael Reynolds About any kind of page being turned on Trumpism. My idiot brothers have stepped up with the election fraud nonsense. But my brothers are a bit slow, so I guess time will tell.

  15. CSK says:

    I have a fantasy that some day, Pence, Mitch McConnell, etc. will break down and start screaming “Yes! Yes! For God’s sake, yes! We can’t stand that stupid orange churl either. We know he’s a moronic vulgarian. We know he hasn’t the slightest grasp of statecraft. We know he’s an infantile slob. We know he’s a fucking embarrassment to the United States.”

    It’ll never happen, though, because they need those Trumpkin votes, so they have to pretend that Trump isn’t a revolting swine.

    I can dream, I suppose.

  16. Sleeping Dog says:


    Fantasizing about Moscow Mitch and Pence. You have gone over the edge.

    I don’t even know if there is medication for that.

  17. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    Well, it’s not as if I’m imagining a threesome with them.

  18. Jax says:

    @CSK: OMG, I just had to bleach my eyeballs and mind from that mental image. For shame. 😛

  19. CSK says:

    I’m a devil. You should know that by now.

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: For some reason, FG’s link to it is the only thing that seems to matter. Maybe without FG, they’re alright with the package, maybe Rubio (or someone else) will become the next hated face. It seems too materialist(?) to me.

  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: Or maybe they’re thinking “better FG’s face on this dog’s dinner of sociopathic policy the oligarchs are paying us to enact than mine.”