WASHINGTON (AP) — The intensifying rivalry between former President Donald Trump and his once fiercely loyal vice president, Mike Pence, was put on stark display Tuesday as the two gave dueling speeches in Washington on the future of the Republican Party.
Trump, in his first return to Washington since Democrat Joe Biden ousted him from the White House, repeated the false election fraud claims that sparked the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, while Pence, in a separate address, implored the party to move on from Trump’s defeat.
Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence the 2020 election was tainted. The former president’s allegations of fraud were also roundly rejected by courts, including by judges he appointed.
“It was a catastrophe, that election,” Trump nonetheless declared to an audience of cheering supporters at the America First Agenda Summit, about a mile from the White House he once called home.
Hours earlier, addressing a student conservative group, Pence said, “Some people may choose to focus on the past, but elections are about the future.”
The speeches highlighted the divisions within the party between Trump loyalists who still refuse to accept the results of the 2020 election and other Republicans who believe the party should instead focus on the future heading into this fall’s midterm elections and beyond.
And they come as both men have been laying the groundwork for expected presidential runs. Trump, in particular, has been teasing his intentions and said Tuesday that he “may just have to do it again" as he addressed a group of former White House officials and Cabinet members who have been crafting an agenda for a possible second Trump administration.
Pence, once Trump's loyal vice president, spoke about his own “Freedom Agenda” as he presented a different vision for the party at a conference nearby.
“I believe conservatives must focus on the future to win back America. We can’t afford to take our eyes off the road in front of us because what’s at stake is the very survival of our way of life," he said in an address to Young America’s Foundation, a student conservative group.
Trump, too, said America's survival was at stake. In a speech billed as focused on public safety, he painted a dark picture of a nation in decline and one in imminent danger from rising crime. Among his proposals, he called for executing drug dealers, sending the homeless to tent cities on the outskirts of cities, and expanding his Southern border wall.
Biden joined in — on Twitter — dismissing Trump's claim to have been a law-and-order president.
Referring to the Capitol riot, he tweeted: “I don’t think inciting a mob that attacks a police officer is ‘respect for the law.’ You can’t be pro-insurrection and pro-cop – or pro-democracy, or pro-American.”
Trump, in his remarks, also spent plenty of time airing his usual grievances even as some advisers have urged him to move on.
“If I renounced my beliefs, if I agreed to stay silent, if I stayed home and just took it easy, the persecution of Donald Trump would stop immediately,” he said. “But that’s not what I will do.”
Despite Trump's reputation for harshly criticizing rivals, Pence and other potential GOP contenders have been increasingly brazen in their willingness to take on the man who remains a dominating force in the Republican Party, despite his actions on Jan. 6, when he stood by as a mob of his supporters ransacked the Capitol and tried to halt certification of Biden's win.