(CNN) — Former Vice President Mike Pence berated former President Donald Trump Thursday night on the question of overriding the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Pence also said he will “always be proud” of his role in affirming the results of the January 6 election following a deadly revolt by Trump supporters on the US Capitol.
The former vice president’s comments at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, focused primarily on designing a pro-Trump platform for a possible White House run.
But Pence also offered a stark assessment of the former president’s claims, in the days and weeks leading up to January 6, about changing the election results during the official counting of electoral votes in Congress.
“The Constitution does not give the vice president authority to reject or return electoral votes presented to Congress by the states,” said Pence, contradicting Trump’s assertion at his January 6 rally that his vice president could “do the right thing” and reject the vote count.
Without mentioning Trump by name, Pence said there are “those in our party” who believe that “anyone” could choose the president.
“The truth is, there is hardly any idea more anti-American than the notion that anyone could elect the American president,” he said.
Trump continues to insist that the elections were stolen, telling an interviewer this week that he “never admitted defeat” and was “very disappointed that (Pence) did not return them to the legislatures.”
Rather, Pence acknowledged the “disappointment” of defeat in 2020.
“Now, I understand the disappointment that many feel about the last elections,” he said. “I identify. I was on the ballot. But, you know, there is more at stake than our party and our political fortune right now. If we lose faith in the Constitution, we will not only lose the elections: we will lose our country.
It was the only clear break Pence made from the president whom he served loyally for four years, and whose mantle he would like to take on for himself in the 2024 presidential race. That goal is complicated by the open possibility that Trump could run again and the blame that Trump’s most loyal supporters attribute to Pence for not repealing the election.
Pence’s task is to distinguish himself from Trump when necessary while still aligning himself with the Trump administration’s achievements that are most popular with the Republican base. He began that effort in a speech in South Carolina in April, which were his first public comments since leaving the vice presidency. Pence isn’t the only potential 2024 contender navigating Trump’s legacy. Nikki Haley, who criticized Trump after Jan.6, addressed party loyalists in Iowa on Thursday night, repeatedly sharing warm anecdotes about how she had collaborated with him as an ambassador to the UN.
While Pence had largely avoided talking about January 6 in April, his comments Thursday night attempted to address, albeit delicately, the false claims made by Trump. But in everything else, Pence appears to be closely related to Trump and a Republican Party made more in the image of the 45th president.
Throughout his 45-minute speech, the Indiana Republican identified with Trump’s agenda on issues such as immigration, border security, trade, China and public safety. He spoke proudly of the achievements of the “Trump-Pence administration” in office, calling on Republicans to merge their “traditional conservative priorities” with the “new pillars” of Trump’s agenda.
He also tried to reconcile Trump with Ronald Reagan, the former Republican president and conservative of the movement whom Pence credits with persuading him to defect from the Democratic Party in his youth.
“President Donald Trump is unique too,” Pence said. “He also disrupted the status quo. He challenged the establishment. He revitalized our movement and set a bold new course for America in the 21st century. And now, as then, there is no going back.
Elsewhere in his comments, Pence directed a lot of criticism of Democrats, including President Joe Biden’s record on immigration and his spending proposals. He went after the “myths of the left”, criticizing the culture of cancellation and efforts to “defund the police.” He also sought the use of critical race theory in school curricula, a popular target of Republican governors and legislators across the country.
“Our party must ensure that critical race theory is expelled from our schools, our military and our public institutions,” Pence said.
But in addition to criticizing Democrats for “degrading” the American foundation, Pence offered a subtle warning to Republicans to continue being what he called the “last line of defense” of the Constitution.
“We must make it clear that the Republican Party will always defend the principles at the heart of our republic,” said Pence, before moving on to defend its actions on January 6, which he called a “dark day in the history of the United States Capitol ».
CNN’s David Wright contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism