WASHINGTON (AP) – Former Vice President Mike Pence warned Wednesday of a rising populist tide in the Republican Party as he admonished “Putin apologists” who are unwilling to stand up to the Russian leader over his attack on Ukraine.
Speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington less than a month before November’s midterm elections, Pence addressed the growing divide between traditional conservatives and a new generation of populist candidates inspired in part by former President Donald Trump, who has transformed much of the party.
“Today, on the cusp of a new era of Republican leadership … I think we need to chart a course that doesn’t veer too far in either direction,” Pence told the think tank audience.
“Our movement cannot abandon its fundamental commitment to security, limited government, liberty and life. But neither can we allow our movement to be seduced by the siren song of an unprincipled populism that is untethered to our oldest traditions and most cherished values,” he said. “Let me say: this movement and the party it animates must remain a movement of strong national defense, limited government and of traditional moral values and life.”
To that end, Pence has criticized those in the party who have pushed a more isolationist foreign policy, particularly when it comes to Russian aggression. Earlier on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a state of emergency for four illegally annexed Ukrainian regions as his forces suffered heavy battlefield defeats and renewed attacks on Ukrainian cities and vital infrastructure.
“I know now that there is a growing chorus in our party, including some new voices in our movement, that would eliminate us from the wider world,” Pence said. “But appeasement has never succeeded in history. And now more than ever, we need a conservative movement committed to America’s role as the leader of the free world and as the vanguard of American values.”
“As Russia continues its reckless war of aggression against Ukraine, I believe conservatives need to make it clear that Putin must stop and that Putin will pay,” he added. “There can be no place for Putin’s apologists in the conservative movement. There is room in this movement only for supporters of freedom.”
Pence has been traveling the country, campaigning on behalf of Republican midterm candidates as he lays the groundwork for a potential presidential campaign in 2024. Some of the candidates he has endorsed have espoused the kinds of populist and isolationist views he appeared to oppose on Wednesday. Arizona Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters, for example, has labeled the Russia-Ukraine conflict a “European problem” and criticized federal spending on Ukraine.
Pence’s speech focused mostly on the conservative “Freedom Agenda,” which he released earlier this year. It serves as both a concrete policy agenda for Republicans and an implicit critique of Trump, who has spent most of his time since leaving office obsessing over the 2020 election rather than looking ahead.
Pence, who in his remarks reiterated that to win “we have to do more than criticize and complain,” has been the target of Trump’s ire since he refused to acquiesce to the former president’s unconstitutional plot to try to override the will of voters in January 2021.
Pence reiterated the importance of the oath he took when he was sworn in as vice president, adding that “the American people must know that conservatives will not simply pay faith in the Constitution, but that we will always keep our oath — that we will uphold our oath, as The Bible says, even when it hurts” and “to stand for the Constitution…even when it would be politically expedient to do otherwise.”