Mike Pence appears ready to face off with former President Donald Trump at next week’s first Republican presidential nomination debate — whether his former running mate is on the stage or not.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be in on that stage,” the former vice president told Fox News Digital in an interview last month in New Hampshire.
Last week, as he spoke with this reporter at the Iowa State Fair, Pence stressed that he’s “confident that Republican primary voters know that not only do we need new leadership in the White House, but we need new leadership in the Republican Party.”
For four years in the White House and on the campaign trail, Pence was the then-president’s loyal co-pilot. But that all ended on January 6, 2021, when Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. The attack temporarily disrupted congressional certification of President Biden’s 2020 Electoral College victory over Trump.
Pence was at the Capitol at the time it was attacked, overseeing the joint session of Congress. He was forced, along with members of Congress to temporarily flee to safety as the rioters — some chanting that the then-vice president should be hanged — stormed the building. In following what he saw as his constitutional duties instead of Trump’s wishes, Pence has endured the wrath of the former president and plenty of Trump’s most devout loyalists and supporters.
Now, in the wake of Trump’s back-to-back indictments in connection with the attack on the Capitol and his alleged efforts to try and overturn the 2020 election, Pence is raising the volume.
“I’m very proud of the record of the Trump administration,” Pence said last week. “But the president and I took a different path in the end, and sadly, in the last two and a half years, the former president has continued to maintain that I had the right to overturn the election. I had no right to overturn the election. If the American people hear us out, they know that we kept our oath to the Constitution. I’m confident more and more Americans every day are understanding the stand that we took and appreciating our commitment to keep the oath that we made to them and to almighty God.”
Pence and his small team of close political advisers are looking forward to a showdown with Trump at Wednesday’s Fox News hosted debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is expected to draw millions of viewers across the country.
“We’re ready,” Pence senior adviser Marc Short said in a statement. “We’ve been waiting for this for a while.”
Pence, a veteran of two vice presidential general election debates, has been preparing the first showdown by taking part in mock debates. An adviser who asked to remain anonymous emphasized that Pence “will be very well prepared.”
Whether Trump joins Pence on the stage is still very debatable.
The Republican National Committee, which is organizing all the presidential primary debates, requires that every candidate sign a pledge to support the GOP’s eventual presidential nominee — regardless of who it is — and not to take part in any debate not sanctioned by the national party committee.
Trump, so far, has refused to sign the pledge and has yet to make a final decision on whether he’ll show up in Milwaukee.
Pence, speaking to state lawmakers at the National Conference of State Legislatures Wednesday in Indianapolis, Indiana, said “I hope he comes” when asked about Trump.
In his interview with Fox News Digital last week in Des Moines said, Pence said, “Everyone who is willing to step forward and be considered here in the Iowa caucus and the upcoming primaries owes it to the American people to be on that stage to tell their story, to share their vision, and I’m looking forward to being there.”
His campaign appeared to goad Trump, with communications director Devin O’Malley questioning in a recent statement whether “former President Trump has the courage to show up” at the debate.
Pence’s political team appears to welcome the contrast between the steady former vice president spotlighting his conservative stances on numerous issues, including abortion, with Trump, who’s known for his unpredictability and fireworks.
The former vice president, in comments Friday at a 2024 confab in Atlanta, Georgia, pointed to the Capitol attack and spotlighted that “my differences with the president go far beyond that fateful day. And I hope to have a chance to debate them.”
Even though Trump might not appear on the stage in Milwaukee, he’ll still be front-and-center at the debate.
“If he’s not there, he’ll still be there,” said Fox News’ anchor Bret Baier, who, along with fellow host Martha MacCallum, is a co-moderator of the debate. “He’ll be a part of questioning.”
A Pence adviser said the former vice president’s strategy won’t change, regardless of whom he’s sharing the stage with.
“Mike Pence has been consistent throughout this race about how he’s approached his contrasts with Trump and all the other candidates. He’s not going to change who he is when he gets up on the debate stage.”
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