(WASHINGTON) — Former Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday called on Republicans to choose classic conservative principles over “the siren song of populism” he sees pervading the party, a movement largely inspired by his former running mate, Donald Trump.
“The future of this movement, of this great party, belongs to one or the other — not both. That is because the fundamental divide between these two factions is unbridgeable,” Pence said in a speech at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College.
More than halfway through his speech, Pence directly named rivals Donald Trump and Vivek Ramaswamy, and also swiped at Gov. Ron DeSantis with comparisons of populism and progressivism, which he called “fellow travelers on the same road to ruin.”
“Donald Trump, along with his populist followers and imitators – some of whom are also seeking the Republican presidential nomination — often sound like an echo of the progressive they would replace in the White House,” he said. “Like progressives the Republican populists insist government should dictate how private businesses operate. The Governor of Florida even used the power of the state to punish corporations for taking a political stand he disagreed with.”
“They want to control what Americans do with their earnings,” Pence continued. “As one of the former president’s populist proteges, Vivek Ramaswamy, wrote in his 2022 book, advocating a 59 percent death tax, we shouldn’t allow Americans to become wealthy ‘just by having rich parents.'”
The former vice president said his rivals’ unwillingness to visit entitlement reforms as a way to curb the national debt, in particular, is not conservatism but “Republicanism that prioritizes power over principles.”
“Republican populists would blatantly erode our Constitutional norms – a leading candidate last year called for the “termination” of “all rules regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution” …while his imitators have a demonstrated willingness to brandish government power to silence critics and impose their will on opponents.”
“Populist Republicans would have us trade in our time honored principles for passing public opinion,” he said. “That is not a trade I am willing to make. Nor should my fellow conservatives.”
Campaign advisers told reporters on a preview call Tuesday that the speech was not directed at one candidate in particular, such as Trump or biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, whom Pence has recently hammered over a slate of policy differences, but is intended to address a broader movement Pence and his campaign see rising not only in the race for president but in Congress and other flagship conservative institutions.
“The former vice president will say that there’s a fundamental divide between … limited government conservatism and populism, and that divide is unbridgeable, that populism and liberalism are on the same road to ruin,” a campaign adviser said. “And for those who may mistakenly think this is targeted at Vivek, that would be much too small and interpretation of this speech.”
Pence on Tuesday, after a town hall in Barrington, repeated his warning against what he calls “the siren song of populism unmoored to conservative principles.”
“There’s positions that I take as a traditional conservative that are increasingly at odds with the frontrunner in this race and with others in this field. I really do believe that we are now, after Labor Day, engaged in an important debate over the future the party that will bear upon the future of America,” he said. “It’s really a debate about whether or not the Republican Party is going to continue to adhere to the common sense, conservative agenda that has defined our movement over the last 50 years, or whether we’re going to we’re going to heed the siren song of populism unmoored to conservative principles. And it isn’t any one candidate that’s doing that.”
The former vice president said he sees Trump “some of his imitators” as “beginning to walk away” from traditional conservative positions, ticking through their differences on the war in Ukraine, entitlement reforms, the national debt, and anti-abortion policy, with Pence painting himself as the most Reaganesque in the race.
“I see not only my former running mate but other candidates in the field that are beginning to walk away from America’s commitment as leader of the free world, unwilling to talk about reforming entitlements and spending in ways that will save our country from a debt crisis facing children and grandchildren, and also trying to marginalize the cause of the sanctity of life, that’s been a central cause of our movement for generations,” he said. “So it’s about drawing that contrast and really laying out what I think will be really a very clear, clear choice in this campaign going forward.”
According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential polling average, Trump continues to poll above 50%, while Pence remains in the low single digits, at 4.5%. Ramaswamy has jumped to 8.3%, appearing to experience a post-debate surge.
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