MANCHESTER, N.H. — Former Vice President Mike Pence
acknowledged for the first time Thursday his break with his ex-boss over the Jan. 6 insurgency, but he still refused to blame Donald Trump for inciting the violent attack
that nearly killed him.
“As I said that day, Jan. 6 was a dark day in the history of the United States
Capitol,” Pence told the Hillsborough County Lincoln-Reagan Dinner crowd of 360 Republicans
. “You know, President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office, and I don’t know if we’ll ever see eye to eye about that day, but I will always be proud of what we accomplished for the American people
over the years.
Pence received a standing ovation for his remarks, and he went on to urge Republicans not to let what happened divide them.
“I will not allow Democrats
or their media
allies to use one tragic day to discredit the aspirations of millions of Americans, or to divert our attention away from a new administration intent on further dividing our country to advance their radical agenda,” he said.
The remarks were his most detailed public discussion of Trump's attempt to overthrow American democracy
and stay in power despite losing the 2020 election
by 7 million votes
. Pence was the linchpin of Trump's last-ditch scheme, and the former president had demanded that Pence reject vote tallies from a half dozen states, which would have left Trump with a higher total in the Electoral College so Trump could stay in power.
The vice president has no such authority under the Constitution or the Electoral Count Act, as Pence repeatedly told Trump over the course of several weeks, the most recent of which occurred late on the morning of Jan. 6, just before Pence took the House floor to ratify the election results.
Despite this, Trump told thousands of supporters gathered at a rally near the White House
that he hoped Pence would do as he asked, and two hours later slammed his vice president for failing to do so.
“Thanks to swift action by Capitol Police
and federal law enforcement, the violence was contained, the Capitol was secured, and the Congress
reconvened the same day, and we did our duty under the Constitution and the laws of the United States,” Pence said Thursday.
He did not, however, go into detail about what Trump had asked him to do, nor did he go into the weeks of Trump's repeated lies that the November election had been "stolen" from him, a narrative
that helped lay the groundwork for the insurgency.
Rather, starting 412 minutes into his 37-minute speech, Pence repeatedly praised Trump and his leadership, even comparing him to Ronald Reagan
: "He said, 'People say I'm a great communicator. Well, I'm not a great communicator, I just communicate great things.' President Donald Trump
did the same."
In his only previous public remarks on the subject, Pence described Jan. 6 as a "tragedy at our nation's Capitol" and lumped it in with the pandemic
, "civil unrest," and a "divisive election" as challenges the country had faced in the previous year in a speech to Christian conservatives
in South Carolina
He repeated that line on Thursday, his first visit to the nation's first presidential primary state since leaving office, but as a prelude to his new statements.
Pence met with New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and state Senate
Republicans earlier in the day, after meeting with potential donors in Boston
upon his arrival in New England
. According to the county party, which includes the state's largest city, attendance at the dinner far exceeded the previous high of 220, and it grossed approximately $75,000
It is unclear how Pence's new approach will play with a primary voting
base that remains enamored with Trump, as he prepares to run for the Republican presidential nomination himself in 2024.
“There are a lot of negative feelings out there about that,” said Paul Somero, a state House member from a rural part of Hillsborough County, repeating a falsehood widely believed by many Trump supporters
that Pence had the authority to give Trump a second term on Jan. 6.
But, according to Alex Talcott, a real estate lawyer from nearby Durham, Pence's actions that day did not turn off Trump supporters. "I think tonight's turnout proves that it does not. He's actually respected by both wings of the party, the Trump wing and the non-Trump wing," he said.
Trump was impeached for the second time in a week for inciting the attack on the US Capitol
, but Senate Republicans chose not to convict him, preventing Trump from running for federal office again, which Trump has stated he is considering.
Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
(R-Ky.) and the majority of congressional Republicans blocked the formation of a bipartisan commission
to investigate the assault
on January 6
Even if Trump does not run for president in 2024, Pence will face stiff competition from a number of other Republicans, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley
Gov. Ron DeSantis
, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, former New Jersey
Gov. Chris Christie
, and Sens. Marco Rubio
of Florida, Rick Scott of Florida, Ted Cruz