Trump, DeSantis Lead Republicans Astray With Populism, Pence Says

(Bloomberg) -- Former Vice President Mike Pence denounced the populist impulses animating the Republican Party, saying former President Donald Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other rivals for the 2024 nomination had abandoned their conservative principles for political expediency.

Most Read from Bloomberg

In a speech in New Hampshire on Wednesday, Pence said Trump and his populist protégés have turned their backs on limited government and traditional values in favor of “an agenda stitched together by little else than personal grievances and performative outrage,” according to his prepared remarks.

Pence said Republican populists, like Democratic progressives, share an impulse to use government edicts to wage culture wars and are “fellow travelers on the same road to ruin.”

Pence’s address at Saint Anselm College highlighted the ideological tensions within the Republican Party as it selects its candidate to challenge President Joe Biden in 2024.

Pence’s criticism of his former running mate isn’t new. He’s argued that history would hold Trump accountable for endangering lives — including his own — by urging a mob to march on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 in an effort to stop the certification of the 2020 election. Pence, presiding over a joint congressional session to count electoral votes, took the final step in confirming Biden’s win.

But his speech Wednesday went further, making clear his break with Trump extends to philosophical differences as well. Pence is defending the record of the Trump administration, but accusing Trump himself of abandoning the conservative agenda he governed on, and breaking from the tradition of Republican presidents like Ronald Reagan — whose name Pence repeatedly invokes.

“The Republican Party did not begin on a golden escalator in 2015,” Pence said in his prepared remarks, referring to the beginning of Trump’s first campaign eight years ago.

In a series of posts on his social media platform later Wednesday, Trump responded by saying Pence had gone to the “dark side.”

“Mike failed badly on calling out Voter Fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election, and based on the fact that he is at approximately 2% in the Polls, with no money or support, he obviously did the wrong thing,” Trump wrote on Truth Social.

Pence also extended his criticism to rivals that he called Trump “imitators.” He castigated DeSantis for using the state government to punish the Walt Disney Co. for taking political stands he disagreed with. And he took on Ohio entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy for proposing an estate tax rate of 59% and for saying entitlement reform should be left to another president.

“This is not conservatism,” Pence said. “It is Republicanism that prioritizes power over principles.”

Pence’s rhetorical assault on his rivals followed a spirited exchange with Ramaswamy in the first Republican presidential debate last month. The second debate, on Sept. 27 at the Reagan Library, will likely give Pence another platform to brand himself as a traditional conservative.

Despite being second only to Trump in name recognition, Pence is polling in the single digits in fifth place in most polls, behind Trump, DeSantis, Ramaswamy and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

(Updates to add response from Trump, beginning in the eighth paragraph)

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.