Will Mike Pence run for president in 2024? His answer to a Utah Valley University student
Pence’s speech during Utah visit focused on political civility, abortion, ‘nuclear family,’ economic health and his thoughts on Jan. 6
After former Vice President Mike Pence gave his speech at Utah Valley University — a university in the conservative Utah County suburb of Orem — a UVU student asked a key question.
Would he be running for president in 2024?
“I’ll keep you posted,” Pence answered without elaboration.
Pence, however, sure sounded like he was giving a campaign stump speech Tuesday, focusing on restoring traditional American values and freedoms, the “erosion of the nuclear family,” restricting abortion, securing the border and fixing immigration policy, and states’ rights — as well as injecting civility into the nation’s political discourse.
Pence, while lauding policies advanced under former President Donald Trump’s administration, simultaneously sought to distance himself from Trump’s divisive style as he called for a change in political rhetoric.
“Those of us in public life must do more than just criticize. We must unite around a bold, optimistic agenda that is grounded in the highest ideals of this country,” Pence said.
Pence said if Americans “continue to allow angry, radical voices on the extremes to keep dumping toxic waste into the headwaters of culture, our politics will only get more poisonous over time.”
“I think the American people are ready to get to a United States of America where we’re united around the principle that we’re entitled to our own deeply held beliefs, values, faith and convictions, and we won’t begrudge that of one another,” Pence said. “We’ll respect one another, then we’ll count the votes and we’ll figure out what the policy will be. But we’ll do it all as Americans.”
In response to another question from a student about what can be done to alleviate divisions — among both the public and politicians — Pence recalled when he first started in politics as a 29-year-old, he got involved in a “rough-and-tumble campaign” for a congressional seat in 1988 and another in 1990, when “we tore into our opponent.”
But as a Christian, Pence said “I began to reflect on the obligations of my faith and the public square.” He then ended up writing an essay for his local paper titled “Confessions of a Negative Campaigner.”
“I just came to a conclusion that as a Christian, I had an obligation to conduct myself in campaigns better than I had. And so from that point forward ... I always try to practice civility, serving an audience of one,” Pence said.
Pence, in his call to “preserve American culture” and “freedoms,” said the U.S. must first and foremost “restore the principle that we are a nation that cherishes every human life born and unborn.”
“(After) 50 years of lives of incalculable value ended before they were born, today at long last, Roe v. Wade has been sent to the ash heap of history where it belongs, and the American people have been given a new beginning for life,” Pence said.
Now, “we must not rest or relent until the sanctity of life is restored at the center of American law in every state in the land.”
Freedom of religion
Pence also said in order to “advance and preserve American culture, we need to defend our first freedom without apology, and that is the freedom of religion.”
He said there’s been “increasing hostility for people that hold traditional religious beliefs.”
“We live in a day and age when in the name of tolerance, we encounter some of the least tolerant rhetoric in America,” Pence said. ”We have to defend the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech of every American in the courts and in the public square.”
Asked by another UVU student about why he investigated his power as vice president to change the results of the 2020 election, Pence answered, “I don’t recall that I did.”
He then went on to address the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and the storming of the U.S. Capitol.
“Let me be very clear. Jan. 6 was a tragic day in the life of our nation,” Pence said, thanking Capitol police for quelling the violence.
“We reconvened Congress the very next day and fulfilled our (duties) under the Constitution of the United States,” Pence said, before more directly addressing the question.
“From the very onset when there began to be discussion about the role of the vice president, I just couldn’t see it,” Pence said, adding that the role of Congress is only to open and count electoral votes, while the vice president’s role is only to preside over that process.
“There is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person chooses which votes to count for the American president,” Pence said, which was met with applause from the crowd.
Ultimately, Pence said, “What began as a day of tragedy ended up as a triumph of freedom.”
Pointing to a U.S. economy that’s still “reeling” from the COVID-19 pandemic and record inflation levels, Pence said “we must revive the American economy through free-market principles” and “unleash free enterprise.”
“We know how to fix the economy,” he said. “You let the American people keep more of what they earn, you lower taxes on American businesses so they can compete with businesses around the world. ... Then you unleash American energy, roll back red tape, take three steps back, and the American economy will boom again, just as it did before.”
Would Pence beat Trump in a Republican primary?
Pence visited Utah — a deep red state but one that might be a battleground state during a GOP presidential primary — to give his speech hosted by Utah Valley University’s newly minted Gary R. Herbert Institute for Public Policy.
Former Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, called Pence a “good friend” while introducing him to the audience of about 700, describing Pence and his wife, Karen, as good people who “care deeply” about the future of the country.
While Pence hedged on whether he would run as president in 2024, he’s been giving speeches across the country, which could be laying groundwork for a campaign. He has also been campaigning for Republican candidates, which has been fueling speculation that he’s considering a 2024 presidential run, ABC News reported last month.
Even though the Utah Republican Party’s own chairman said he likes Pence and his message, he doesn’t think Pence would stand a chance if he were to go head-to-head with Trump in a GOP presidential primary.
“There are so many people who just like Trump,” Carson Jorgensen, chairman of the Utah GOP, told reporters after Pence’s speech. He said Trump’s “popularity with the grassroots is still something I have yet to grasp,” but he remains a favorite in a 2024 presidential race among Republicans.
“I voted for him in ’16, voted for him in ’20, and I would do so again. Just because not so much that I love Trump himself, but I like the fruits of his policies,” Jorgensen said.
Jorgensen added Utahns, remembering back before Biden’s presidency, are thinking about when “I could afford gas, I could afford groceries. Like, my 401K was doing great, the stock market was on a roll. ... We were doing better under Trump. I may not love him, but things were good for me then, and that is something that is going to be hard to beat.”
Pence is “well respected,” Jorgensen said, seen as “being with Trump, but not a Trump version.” Pence could potentially have a “great shot” as a GOP candidate, but in a packed primary, Jorgensen predicted he’d have a tough time beating Trump here in Utah.
Asked why he thought Pence chose to spend his time in Utah on Tuesday, Jorgensen said, “that’s a great question. I have no idea, to be honest. Like, why would you come to Utah? We’re going to vote Republican regardless.” But he added he was glad Pence would come here to speak to UVU students. “Oftentimes we feel so distanced from national politics.”
In a GOP primary, however? Utah could be a key state, Jorgensen said.
“I think Trump still holds sway, but (Florida Gov. Ron) DeSantis is picking up steam. (If) you get enough candidates in the states, then Utah does become an in-play state for somebody in the primary,” Jorgensen said.
“But still, like him or hate him, if Trump were to run I still think he would win (Utah). That’s just my objective opinion.”