Yesterday Señor Trumpanzee was the keynote speaker at the Faith and Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" conference in Nashville. He denied calling Pence a "wimp" but he still doubled down on his criticism, telling the audience that Pence lacked courage.
Mostly Trump just railed about all the Fox News perspectives-- anti-LGBTQ, anti-select committee (carrying on for over half an hour about "con artists" the "menacing spirit," the "witch hunt" and the "ludicrous narrative")... I think he said Liz Cheney has "a mental disorder." "The committee refuses to play any of the tape of people saying the good things, the things that we want to hear. It's a one-way street," was one of his complaints. "It's a rigged deal." Mostly he just talked about himself and his long list of grievances. He also said "We have to fight some very sick and very evil people."
He also dangled pardons in front of the J-6 coup attempt witnesses, likely in the hope that they won't keep throwing him under the bus as so many already have.
As Politico pointed out yesterday evening, "The Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual gathering of social conservatives was once Mike Pence’s home turf. The former vice president would attend the conference each year to address an audience of like-minded evangelicals who were eager to hear him speak and elevate him politically. That was then. This year, Pence has taken on a new persona among the crowd-- a Trump era castoff who is probably better off not showing his face. And he seems to know it. The former veep was invited to the conference but decided not to attend. It was the first time Pence had missed the conference in five years."
Funny, Trump brought him onto the ticket because of his sway with evangelicals. Now the evangelicals have deified Trump and spurned Pence.
The mood of the crowd at Faith & Freedom reflected the degree to which Republican politicians are judged not so much by their ideologies but by their relationship to Trump. Ralph Reed, a Republican strategist and founder of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, is close with both Trump and Pence. But when asked if he was surprised by Trump’s attacks, he would only say he consulted with Trump’s speechwriters yesterday.
“If Mike Pence wanted to come and wanted to offer a rejoinder to these folks, he could have done it. I’m not saying he should have done it. I told him when I saw him a couple weeks ago, no harm no foul, but I said I want you here next year and he’ll be there,’” Reed said to a small group of reporters after Trump’s speech.
...[I]t’s unclear how Pence can build up a national profile if he were to lose the full support of his bedrock constituency: Evangelicals. Not everyone in his camp is worried. Aides to Pence say he holds appeal across the Republican party.
“Vice President Pence checks the hawk lane. He checks the traditional GOP lane. And obviously probably the biggest one is the Evangelical lane,” said the Pence ally.
And Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The Family Leader, a conservative Christian parent organization for the Iowa Family Policy Center, said Pence’s support remains strong among social conservatives and Evangelicals in Iowa, especially as support of Trump wanes.
“Not to play Bob Seger on you, but I think they’re looking to turn the page,” Vander Plaats said of Iowa voters he talks to. “Take the best of Trump, and let’s see if Ron DeSantis can carry on that fight-- or Mike Pence or Mike Pompeo or Ted Cruz or whoever you throw into that match.”
But among those in Nashville this weekend, Pence seemed more a relic of the past than an element of the future. None of the merchandise stalls that lined the entrance to the conference ballroom featured Pence’s name, while there were piles of red, white, and blue “Trump” and “Trump 2024” t-shirts and hats for sale.
“I feel like he was mistreated so long he wanted to give his soul a break and his family. I don’t think it’s political, it’s personal-- he doesn’t want to get attacked right now,” said Krista Kiepke from Clarksville, Tenn. “Jesus himself removed from the disciples to refresh so he could do his job so I look at it as that.”
Yesterday, Blake Hounshell asked fellow Times reporter, Trump whisperer Maggie Haberman how Trump is handling the pounding he's getting on TV from the select committee and all his former compatriots. "My understanding from multiple people is that he’s been unhappy watching them. He’s frustrated in particular seeing the clips of his family-- Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner-- being used against him... He has always feared a possible indictment, since long before he became president, according to many people who’ve known him. Whether he does specifically here is an open question. Some of his aides are adamant that he doesn’t think these hearings will lead to anything that touches him."