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Pence Confronts Trump
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Pence Confronts Trump

Plus: Republicans see a chance to knock off Maine’s Rep. Jared Golden.

Former Vice President Mike Pence in Ankeny, Iowa on June 7, 2023. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Happy Friday! Eight years ago tomorrow, real estate magnate Donald Trump descended a golden escalator at Trump Tower in Manhattan to announce he was running for president. Who knows: Maybe eight years from now we’ll be remarking on the anniversary of Francis Suarez getting in!

Up to Speed

  • They keep piling in: Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a Republican, announced Thursday he’s running for president. “America’s so-called leaders confuse being loud with actually leading,” Suarez said in his announcement video, which features him out for a run around his city. “All Washington wants to do is fight with each other instead of fighting for the people that put them in office.” First elected in 2017, he’ll be the race’s only Latino—and its third Florida man.
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday signed a state law mandating that college athletes in the state participate in sports in accordance with their biological sex.
  • Meanwhile, California’s Senate Judiciary Committee moved forward this week on a bill mandating that courts weigh parents’ consideration of a child’s gender identity claims while adjudicating child custody fights. The bill was passed by the state Assembly earlier this year.
  • Former President Donald Trump’s federal indictment notwithstanding, the Republican National Committee isn’t budging on its requirement to make GOP presidential hopefuls pledge to support the eventual nominee in order to make the debate stage. The RNC reportedly made that clear this week to former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had been publicly protesting the requirement. (Whether the RNC can ultimately enforce such a pledge is another matter.)

‘I Can’t Defend What It Alleged’

Mike Pence isn’t a political cage fighter or a fire-breathing rhetorician, and he isn’t running for president to repudiate the MAGA era. But the former vice president has made it clear since launching his presidential campaign that there’s one subject on which he’s willing to hit his old boss Donald Trump hard: his contempt for the Constitution and the rule of law.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that, in the wake of Trump’s indictment this week on federal charges of mishandling classified documents and obstruction of justice, Pence has gone farther than many of his competitors in criticizing the former president’s alleged behavior. And he’s pointedly refused to join with some competitors, like Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley, who are vowing to pardon if they win the White House (and the former president is convicted).

To be sure, Pence leavens his concerns about the allegations against Trump by acknowledging Republican suspicions about double standards at the Department of Justice and the FBI, two agencies he promises to overhaul if elected president. But his stubborn refusal to absolve Trump before the matter has been adjudicated has irked Trump loyalists and sparked testy interviews this week in conservative media.

“These are serious charges. And as I said, I can’t defend what’s been alleged. But the president does deserve to make his defense,” Pence told radio host Clay Travis on Wednesday. “I’ve been a former governor. I’ve actually granted pardons to people, and I take the pardon authority very seriously. It’s an enormously important power of someone in an executive position. I just think it’s premature to have any conversation about that right now.”

Travis wasn’t pleased. “What I’m hearing is, you’re fine with Donald Trump being put in prison, sir, and that—to me, since you were his vice president—feels pretty disrespectful,” he said. Pence didn’t flinch, telling the talk show host: “We don’t know what the president’s defense here is … Let’s take it one step at a time … Let’s follow the facts.”

Even Larry Kudlow, Pence’s West Wing colleague in the Trump White House, pressed the former vice president in an interview on Fox Business to explain why he is leaving open the possibility that the 45th president might be getting exactly what he deserves. “Every American is entitled to be presumed innocent, until proven guilty,” Pence said. “That being said, I looked at this indictment over the weekend … I can’t defend what is alleged.”

This hard line might flop with voters. Pence trails Trump, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, significantly in state and national polls.

But Pence’s expansive public comments on the matter are key components of a deliberate campaign strategy to confront the issue head on. As a former vice president, he can speak with authority on the commander-in-chief’s responsibility to protect American secrets. Additionally, Pence has two close family members—a son and a son-in-law—serving in the military, giving him particular credibility on the subject of how cavalier treatment of U.S. intelligence can harm personnel on the front lines.

“Mike Pence doesn’t need to ‘navigate’ indictment questions because they allow him to build off the foundation that he established in his announcement speech: to always stand on the Constitution and rule of law and because standing in the pocket and giving genuine answers allows him to draw contrasts that other candidates can’t or aren’t willing to make,” a Pence adviser tells The Dispatch.

House GOP Sees Early Promise in ME-2

House Republican campaign operatives have long eyed Maine’s 2nd Congressional District as a top 2024 target. Now comes the tricky part: recruiting the right Republican to make the race competitive on Election Day.

The GOP primary field to take on Blue Dog Democratic Rep. Jared Golden is still wide open. But early indicators suggest the race is likely to be competitive. Only 11 percent of registered Maine voters think the country is heading in the right direction, according to a spring survey conducted by polling firm Digital Research, Inc.

That same poll pegs Golden’s constituent favorability rating at just 39 percent and his disapproval rating at 31 percent—more than double his unfavorability rating in 2019 according to the same pollster. And Republicans flipped a Democrat-held swing state house seat this week, giving party operatives hope that independent-leaning voters are tiring of Democratic policies. 

But winning Maine’s 2nd Congressional District is a different ballgame. Golden knows his district well: He split his vote in Trump’s first impeachment trial, stays out of the limelight, and regularly bucks the party line. And he’s now a battle-tested incumbent, having ridden the 2018 blue wave into his first term and winning reelection by six points in both 2020 and 2022. His 2020 victory was particularly impressive given Trump carried the district that year by the same margin—what amounts to a double digit electoral crossover gap. 

This district is “pretty idiosyncratic and parochial,” says J. Miles Coleman, an election analyst at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. “Even though it’s increasingly trending Republican, its voters march to the beat of their own drum which I think plays in Golden’s favor.”

“Maybe some good news for Republicans is that they have a pretty deep bench there in the legislature,” adds Coleman. “Any successful Republican is going to have to get a big vote in the French Canadian north and hold Golden’s margins down in the southern part. I’m fully expecting Trump to carry the district again but they can’t just rely on his coattails.”

Republicans are still waiting on a formal announcement from former GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin, whom Golden ousted in 2018 and who ran unsuccessfully again in 2020. Conventional wisdom holds that he won’t run. “According to everyone that I’ve spoken with, he’s not going to run or even looking at it,” says one Republican strategist familiar with the race.

The former House Republican did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but one of Poliquin’s former colleagues thinks he would do well to sit this one out. “Losing two in a row is hard to bounce back from and the odds get worse each run after a loss,” says one current House Republican who requested anonymity to speak freely.

Previous cycles suggest Republicans will spend heavily in this race. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Kevin McCarthy-aligned super PAC, spent $6.2 million on the district last cycle alone. The National Republican Congressional Committee spent $5.5 million.

Spokesmen for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Golden declined to comment.

Notable and Quotable


—Donald Trump, posting on Truth Social following his federal indictment, Wednesday, June 14

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.