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Amid growing distance, Trump and Pence vie for spotlight with back-to-back DC speeches

Former vice president will deliver a campaign-style speech Monday at the Heritage foundation one day ahead of former President Trump's highly anticipated return to the nation's capital.

Published: July 22, 2022 1:04pm

Updated: July 25, 2022 12:08am

Following dueling appearances in Arizona on Friday, former President Donald Trump and his estranged former Vice President Mike Pence each return to the nation's capital this week to deliver addresses that may serve to preview potential 2024 runs at the White House by the former running mates — this time as GOP primary rivals.

In recent weeks, the former vice president has grown bolder in distancing himself from the former president. He has begun appearing at campaign-style events and seeking support among House Republicans for his apparent presidential aspirations.

Last week alone, Pence was welcomed by the House Republican Study Committee (which he chaired during his stint in the lower chamber from 2005-2006), and the National Republican Congressional Committee's "Young Guns" candidate dinner. 

The Trump-Pence divide is, at the moment, especially stark in the nation's capital in the wake of House Democrats' Jan. 6 committee hearings, which sought to highlight Trump's efforts to pressure his former VP to pause certification of the 2020 election results pending further investigation into reported voting irregularities and usurpations of legislative authority in a handful of swing states critical to Joe Biden's victory.

During his session with the RSC last week, House members reportedly broke out in applause as Rep. Chip Roy of Texas praised the former VP for showing bravery and a commitment to the Constitution on Jan. 6. Many members of the RSC voted against certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. 

In Arizona over the weekend, Trump and Pence campaigned for the opposing candidates they have respectively endorsed in the state's gubernatorial primary.

Previously, Pence backed incumbent GOP Gov. Brian Kemp in Georgia in his primary against Trump-backed ex-Sen. David Perdue. Kemp trounced Perdue by 50 points. Trump and Kemp had a very public falling out in the aftermath of November 2020, as Trump and members of his inner circle worked to prove there had been enough voter fraud in Georgia to successfully overturn the election results in the state. 

Pence's active involvement with 2022 candidates has given him a platform to deliver a series of speeches focused on a forward outlook for Republicans, drawing a contrast to Trump's continuing preoccupation with the 2020 election. Indeed, Trump's chosen candidate in the Arizona gubernatorial primary, Kari Lake, is running on a platform revolving around election integrity. 

In Washington on Monday, Pence will speak at the Heritage Foundation, where he is a distinguished visiting fellow. During the first week of August, he will travel to New Hampshire, the early primary state visited by virtually all presidential hopefuls, though not before delivering a speech in South Carolina, another early primary state, about the Supreme Court's recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Pence's speech will focus on his "freedom agenda" policies, which outline his views on government, foreign policy, taxes, education, and culture war battles. He has been using the framework as a guide for Republicans to win back the House majority in November, but it could easily be repurposed for a presidential run.

On Tuesday, former President Trump will return to the nation's capital for the first time since his January 2021 departure. He will deliver an address at a two-day policy conference hosted by the America First Policy Institute, a think tank that has emerged as a haven for Trump administration aides and policymakers. 

Trump headlines a speakers' lineup set to feature former cabinet members, current lawmakers and other GOP luminaries, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Rick Scott (Fla.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. 

A timely Axios piece provides an overview of the policy and, perhaps more importantly, personnel planning going on in Trump's world, much of it centered at AFPI. 

While Trump remains the clear favorite to win the 2024 GOP presidential nomination should he seek it, some Republicans — and arguably independents and even some Democrats — are looking for a "mainstream" GOP option who comes without the polarizing leader's baggage.

On the other hand, a spokesman for Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told Just the News, "Mr. Jordan is 100% for President Trump" in the face of any potential opposition. 

Though some key GOP players have chosen a side in a potential Trump-Pence showdown (or really a Trump-anyone showdown), most do not yet feel it is a time for choosing. 

"In the end, it's all about values and ideas and policies," Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) recently told The Hill. "And I think if we can put that up forefront and push the personality stuff to the side, that's what we should be focused on."

"I think we're going to have a crowded field for president," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). "I assume most of that will unfold later and people will be picking their candidates in a crowded primary field."

Pence is one of a growing number of potential 2024 contenders that include former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, to name a few.

While the ultimate jury in presidential politics is the voters, some within the party are gently pushing for Trump to make an announcement sooner rather than later so that those planning to fall in line will do so, and those with plans of their own will be forced to bring them to light.

"Pence is a great guy, and he's going to do what he wants to do," Missouri Rep. Billy Long (R) told The Hill. "I think everyone's making preparations in case Trump does not run, whether it's Mike Pompeo or Nikki Haley or any of them," but "if anyone runs against Trump, it'd be foolhardy."

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