The most acrimonious American political divorce in generations stormed through Washington on Tuesday as former President Donald Trump and his onetime running mate, former Vice President Mike Pence, delivered dueling policy speeches telegraphing a looming 2024 confrontation.
Like spouses with irreconcilable differences who nonetheless share a love for their children, Trump and Pence both gushed about policy achievements delivered as president and vice president during their single four-year term. Both declared hours apart, in remarks with obvious presidential campaign overtones, that more of the same domestic and foreign policies are urgently needed to “make America great again” or, as Pence said, “to bring America back.”
Yet neither Trump nor Pence mentioned or credited the other personally during speeches that lasted, in the former president’s case, 90 minutes and, in the former vice president’s case, roughly one hour. It was a stark reminder of the bitter relationship that has developed between two formerly close political partners who once spoke several times a day, born of Pence’s refusal to back Trump’s unsubstantiated stolen election claims.
Trump, speaking inside a downtown Washington hotel ballroom, never mentioned Pence, though he veered off script to (once again) protest his 2020 ouster by President Joe Biden. “I ran for president — I won. Then, I won a second time, did much better the second time,” he told an adoring crowd that included Republican lawmakers and former Trump administration officials gathered for a summit hosted by the America First Policy Institute. “What a disgrace it was.”
Pence, speaking from inside the ballroom of another nearby hotel to a gathering of conservative college students, only uttered the name “Trump” for the purpose of highlighting the accomplishments of the “Trump-Pence administration.” Pence ultimately discussed his rift with his former boss more directly but only when forced to during a brief Q&A session with members of the audience upon the conclusion of his prepared remarks to the Young America’s Foundation conference.
“I don’t know that the president and I differ on issues,” Pence said. After a pregnant pause, he added, “But we may differ on focus. I truly do believe that elections are about the future and that it’s absolutely essential, at a time when so many Americans are hurting, so many families are struggling, that we don’t give way to the temptation to look back.”
The former vice president’s comments were a clear and veiled shot at Trump and his obsession with the last election.
It was hardly the first time Pence swiped at the 45th president in this manner. While Trump regularly attacks Pence’s character for rebuffing his demands to overturn Biden’s Electoral College victory during congressional certification on Jan. 6, 2021, the former vice president has subtly countered, as he did throughout his speech Tuesday, that Trump’s fixation on the past could cost Republicans opportunities for historic gains in the House and Senate in this year’s midterm elections.
As speculation that Trump and Pence are each eyeing a national comeback in 2024, the question has been raised about whether the ticket that won in 2016, and came close to winning reelection in 2020, might get back together again. But the animosity that has built between the nation’s two most recent senior Republican leaders has made that all but impossible. Trump earlier this year told the Washington Examiner that he was not interested.
Pence similarly rejects the notion of teaming up with Trump for a third White House bid, letting as much be known through intermediaries. To be sure, Trump would be overwhelmingly favored in any Republican presidential primary contest against Pence, as he would be versus virtually any GOP competition. But a split of this nature, between two former running mates, is almost unheard of in the annals of American history, making for a fascinating political spectacle.
Not since President Theodore Roosevelt turned on his protege, William Howard Taft, has the nation seen something similar. Roosevelt, a Republican, groomed Taft, his secretary of war, to be his successor after he chose not to run for reelection in 1908. Taft won — but Roosevelt eventually grew frustrated with his successor, and the spat erupted into the open.
Roosevelt ran against Taft on a third-party ticket in 1912, splitting the GOP and tipping the election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Michael A. Genovese, a presidential historian and president of the Global Polity Institute at Loyola Marymount University, said there are similarities between Trump and Roosevelt, both “men of monumental egos,” and Pence and Taft, both “party men.”
“T.R. was a bit of a maverick, as was Trump, and both were disruptors,” Genovese said. “Taft and Pence were traditional Republicans.”