(The Hill) — Former Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday acknowledged he and former President Donald Trump may differ on their approach to advancing their agendas as he urged conservatives to focus on the future to win elections.
“I don’t know that the president and I differ on issues. But we may differ on focus,” Pence told a conference of young conservatives in Washington, D.C.
“I truly do believe that elections are about the future, and that it’s absolutely essential at a time when so many Americans are hurting, so many families are struggling, that we don’t give way to the temptation to look back,” Pence said during a brief question-and-answer session.
The former vice president spoke to the Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization, just hours before Trump was set to speak in the nation’s capital for the first time since leaving office.
Pence, widely seen as laying the groundwork for a possible White House bid, spoke at length about the “Freedom Agenda” outlined by his political advocacy group. While Pence did not explicitly criticize his former boss, his calls for conservatives to look forward, not backward, was a subtle jab at Trump’s unrelenting focus on the 2020 election.
“In order to win, conservatives need to do more than criticize and complain,” Pence said in prepared remarks. “We must unite our movement behind a bold, optimistic agenda that offers a clear and compelling choice to the American people.”
The prepared remarks did not mention Trump by name other than referring to the “Trump-Pence administration.” But the message was a veiled jab at Trump and some of his allies, who have been fixated on debunked claims of fraud in the 2020 election more than a year after President Joe Biden took office.
Pence’s agenda, released earlier this year, includes traditional conservative ideas on economics and military investment, as well as culture war issues that have animated the Republican base in recent years.
The former vice president drew applause for his praise of the Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade. He called for securing the southern border, defending religious liberty, protecting the Second Amendment and barring transgender athletes from competing in women’s athletics.
Pence called for making permanent the tax cuts passed during the Trump administration, which critics say largely benefitted wealthier Americans. And he called for cutting regulations and boosting domestic energy investments to help lower gas prices.
On foreign policy, Pence bemoaned the “woke culture” that he said has seeped into the military, emphasized the need to increase investments in the military, spoke about the need to confront China over trade imbalances and backed isolating Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
The former vice president’s speech was in line with his recent appearances in South Carolina, Arizona, Illinois and elsewhere, where he has urged conservatives to focus on the future and laid out a clear agenda in order to win elections.
Pence is widely seen by Republican strategists as positioning himself for a potential 2024 White House bid. The former vice president’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021, as rioters descended on the Capitol were recently applauded by GOP lawmakers in Washington, and some believe Pence can offer a traditional conservative agenda without the bombast of Trump.
But polling has shown Pence running behind Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in potential 2024 primary matchups, and Trump allies have suggested the former president’s most loyal supporters are unlikely to rally behind Pence because of Jan. 6.
In contrast, Trump has spent much of the last 18 months since leaving Washington focusing on baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, continuing to pressure lawmakers in swing states over the results and making many of his speeches about airing his grievances.
Trump is said to be mulling launching another White House campaign as soon as this summer. Some Republicans have expressed concerns about that timing, worrying that it would upend their clear path to sweeping midterm victories and drive up Democratic turnout in November’s elections.
Pence has downplayed talk of a 2024 bid, saying he is looking to help Republicans win back majorities in the House and Senate.
“Frankly, 2022 may be the best chance we will ever have to build a lasting majority. To invigorate the conservative movement to fulfill conservatism’s purpose and to save the nation from left-wing tyranny, socialism and decline,” Pence said.
“Now, some people may choose to focus on the past. But elections are about the future,” he continued. “And I believe conservatives must focus on the future to win back America.”