GUEST VIEW: Pence and the Rise of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
By Michael Graham
MANCHESTER, NH Former Vice President Mike Pence kicked off the 2024 presidential race with a speech to loyal Republicans in downtown Manchester, NH. Its message has been carefully crafted around the theme of unity which, in a typical political moment, would be mundane. But for a Republican Party still struggling to find its way into the post-Trump world, it’s certainly noteworthy.
The reception from Pence herself was remarkable – record sales of tickets to the Hillsborough County GOP’s annual Lincoln-Reagan dinner. Whether participation was driven by pro-Pence passion or simply the desire of politically active people to remove their masks and socialize does not matter. The net result was a room filled with Republicans from New Hampshire, a socially moderate, fiscally conservative and – most importantly – extremely pro-Trump group.
In other words, a potential Mike Pence minefield.
Pence began his speech with a phrase he commonly uses to introduce himself: “I’m a Christian, Conservative, and Republican – in that order.” It’s a big line of applause in the south, but New Hampshire is one of the most secular states in the country. Social Conservative candidates like Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Pat Robertson rarely did well in the GOP âFirst in the Nationâ presidential primary.
Then there was the Pence âJanuary 6â issue. For while Granite State Republicans may be relatively secular, when it comes to Trump, they are true believers.
According to a survey conducted in April by the UNH Granite State, 70% of Republicans in New Hampshire have a favorable opinion of the former president. Only 13% viewed him unfavorably – in a state where Trump’s opponents are 60% among Independents and 99% among Democrats.
On January 6, Trump called his staunch vice president a traitor and coward for failing to stop certification for the 2020 presidential election. Some members of the mob who ransacked the U.S. Capitol were specifically looking for Pence, mistakenly believing he had the power to overthrow the Electoral College and send elections back to the States.
âMike Pence did not have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our country and our Constitution, by giving states the ability to certify a set of corrected facts, not fraudulent or inaccurate facts that we had asked them to certify previously, âTrump tweeted at the time. âThe United States demands the truth! “
How would Pence handle the elephant in the room? How would the pro-Trump crowd react?
At the start of his remarks, Pence sent a few thanks to his former boss. He celebrated the accomplishments of the âTrump-Pence administrationâ and said, âI have learned a lot from serving alongside President Donald Trump.
Then he quickly moved on to a speech any Republican could have given, one focused on the hot issues of the day: border security, critical race theory, increased crime.
As he neared the end of his remarks, Pence planted his flag to move forward as a likely presidential candidate: his version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
âJanuary 6 was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol. Thanks to the rapid action of the Capitol police and federal law enforcement agencies, the violence was quelled. The Capitol was secured, âPence said. âAnd that same day, we convened Congress again and did our duty under the Constitution and the laws of the United States. “
Message: Yes, I challenged Donald Trump and I’m not going to apologize for it. So don’t ask.
âYou know President Trump and I have spoken to each other several times since we left office. And I don’t know if we’ll ever agree on that, but I’ll always be proud of what we’ve accomplished for the American people over the past four years.
Message: I know you all support Trump and many of you think I was wrong. I don’t agree, but I won’t tell you.
âI will not allow Democrats or their allies in the media to use a tragic day to discredit the aspirations of millions of Americans. And I will not allow Democrats or their allies in the media to distract our attention from a new administration that intends to divide our country to advance their radical agenda.
âMy fellow Republicans, for our country, for our future, for our children and our grandchildren, we must move forward. United.”
Closing message: So let’s not talk about it and instead go look for these crazy democrats and socialism-loving!
Will it work? Is opposition to Biden and the AOC Democrats enough to bridge the gap between Republicans who believe the 2020 election was stolen by Venezuelan hackers using smuggled ballots? ‘Asia, and those who think they are crazy?
It worked in Manchester. Pence’s plea for unity got the house up and running, its longest and loudest standing ovation of the night.
And if Pence wants to find a path to the nomination in 2024, what other strategy is there? It could be argued that no American politician – not even Hillary Clinton – has been more damaged by the Trump presidency than Pence. Non-Trump Republicans see him as Donald’s staunch lackey, while Trumpworld sees him as part of the 2020 conspiracy. On paper, Pence is a politician without a party.
This is why his warm welcome to New Hampshire was so remarkable. If “Don’t ask, don’t say, just go get Biden” can work here, it can work anywhere.
Michael Graham is Editor-in-Chief at InsideSources.