ICYMI: WSJ: Pence Says Trump May Ditch Conservatives

WSJ Opinion: Mike Pence Says Donald Trump May Ditch Conservatives
By Kyle Peterson

June 16, 2023Among the oddities of the 2024 presidential campaign is a contest between a former president and his vice president. Why should Republican primary voters favor Mike Pence over the man who put him on the ticket seven years ago? “Donald Trump promised to govern as a conservative, and we did for four years,” Mr. Pence says. “He makes no such promise today. I mean, with regard to a whole range of issues, he and a few others in this field are moving away from a traditional conservative agenda.”

During a visit to the Journal this week, Mr. Pence cites three of those defections. First, Mr. Trump’s “ambiguous” stance on aiding “Ukraine’s fight for freedom.” Second, Social Security and Medicare: “Donald Trump’s policy is identical to Joe Biden’s on entitlement reform.” Third, abortion. Mr. Trump blames the end of Roe v. Wade for the GOP’s 2022 doldrums. “I believe,” Mr. Pence says, “that the cause of life has been the animating core of our movement for 50 years, and that the American people and Republicans long to see leadership that remains dedicated to the principle of restoring the sanctity of life to the center of American law.”

Republicans need to “resist the siren song of populism unmoored to conservative principle,” Mr. Pence says. It’s an interesting argument for this particular Tuesday afternoon in New York. 

Perhaps not everyone, on the other hand, can credibly argue that Mr. Trump is abandoning the conservative principles that Mr. Pence has championed for half a lifetime. Before he was Indiana governor and vice president, Mr. Pence served 12 years in the House, including when George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” was the fashion. “I was battling against the big spenders in my own party back when they were trying to pass No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription-drug bill,” Mr. Pence says. He voted against both.

Mr. Pence still thinks federal spending is unsustainable, and now the cliff is two decades closer. “We sit here today with a national debt the size of our nation’s economy for the first time since World War II,” he says. Based on Congressional Budget Office numbers, “that grows by another $120 trillion in the next 25 years.” At that point, all options will be bad: “According to the economists that I respect, you’re either going to have to double payroll taxes in the country or import some kind of a European-style welfare-state taxation system.”Mr. Pence cites his three young grandchildren. “I think we owe them better than walking by on the other side of the road,” he says. With the trust funds set to run dry soon, doing nothing isn’t a viable plan: Under existing law, “if you don’t take this on and pass reforms, you know, in the next five to eight years, Social Security and Medicare will be faced with mandatory cuts.” His pitch is that anyone over 40 will collect benefits under current rules. For younger Americans, “we ought to replace New Deal programs with a better deal.”He supports ideas like slowly phasing in a higher retirement age but also—and here he agreed with President Bush—letting workers invest some of their payroll taxes, via the Thrift Savings Plan that government workers use for retirement. Even a modest return could “double what you’re getting right now in Social Security.”

On world affairs, Mr. Pence cites the Reagan Doctrine, America’s history of “forward-leaning policy” to support anticommunist forces, and its role as “the arsenal of democracy.” Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both parties seem to be winging it. “My former running mate said he couldn’t say who should win,” Mr. Pence laments, citing Mr. Trump’s comments recently at a CNN town hall. “We’ve got other people that have said it’s not in our national interest to be there.”

That’s an apparent knock on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who argued this year it wasn’t a “vital national interest” to become “further entangled” in Ukraine.As for Mr. Biden, “when he was asked if the United States would get involved, he said, well, it just depends, if it was a little invasion,” Mr. Pence recounts. “He’s been incredibly slow in providing resources to Ukraine,” and Mr. Biden as well has failed to articulate “what our national interest is there, which is not the broad brush of ‘democracy in the world,’ for heaven’s sakes.”As Mr. Pence lays it out: “Checking Russian aggression in Eastern Europe is in our nation’s interest, because it wouldn’t be too long before they’d cross a border that we would have to send our servicemen and -women,” under NATO’s mutual defense treaty. Add in a dash of realpolitik: “In one short year, Russia has gone from the second-most-powerful military in the world to the second-most-powerful military in Ukraine. That’s a good thing.” Finally, Mr. Pence says Xi Jinping “is going to make decisions about China’s ambitions based on what the outcome is in Ukraine, I have no doubt in my mind.”

As for Roe v. Wade, Mr. Trump appointed three of the five Supreme Court justices who overturned it. He also said the GOP’s feeble performance last November was due to the “abortion issue,” and he’s cagey about what to do next. Not so Mr. Pence, who rejects the theory that the high court gave abortion back to the states alone. “They actually returned it to the states and to the American people,” he says. “The American people elect presidents. They elect senators. They elect congressmen.”

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