Former Vice President Mike Pence, who spent four years serving President Donald J. Trump but refused to grant Mr. Trump’s demand to block the results of the 2020 election, ended his tenure on Saturday. candidacy for president, with a final call for his party to return. conservative principles and resist the “siren song of populism”.
The surprise announcement came at the end of his speech to a crowd of Jewish Republican donors in Las Vegas, and was greeted with great astonishment. Mr. Pence received a standing ovation, opening his speech with unreserved support for Israeli military operations in Gaza.
Then he moved on to a “more personal note,” saying that after much prayer and deliberation, he had decided to drop out of the race.
“It has become clear to me that this is not my time,” he said in front of 1,500 people, promising to “never give up the fight for conservative values.”
Nikki Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations and a crowd favorite, opened her speech to the group by praising Mr. Pence, adding several lines to her prepared remarks.
“He’s a good man of faith. He is a good service man. He fought for America and for Israel,” she said. “We all owe him a debt of gratitude.”
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, another candidate in the race, said in a statement: “The Vice President has been a prayer partner, a friend and a man of integrity and deep conviction. The Republican Party is stronger today because of Mike’s leadership.” Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor who spoke earlier in the day, said Mr. Pence, a former congressman, had “consistently fought for American values” and “defended the Constitution the United States “.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who spoke immediately after Mr. Pence, did not mention the former vice president in his remarks. He posted a statement on X, the website formerly known as Twitter, while Ms. Haley was still speaking, calling Mr. Pence a “principled man of faith.”
Speaking Saturday night at a rally at a Las Vegas country bar, Mr. Trump said Mr. Pence should support him.
“I picked him, I made him vice president, but people in politics can be very disloyal,” Mr. Trump told the crowd, as several people in the audience shouted, referring to Mr. Pence: “Traitor!” Traitor!” Mr. Trump laughed, saying: “He could have done what he could have done, right?
The start of the race came less than 90 days before the Iowa caucuses, on which Mr. Pence had staked his candidacy. But even though Iowa is a tougher state than some others in the Republican primaries for Mr. Trump, the former president remains dominant there. And Mr. Pence’s decision to end his candidacy underscores how difficult it is to unseat Mr. Trump — who has been indicted four times, including twice for his efforts to stay in power — in a multi-candidate context.
Mr. Pence is the highest-profile candidate to leave the race and the first of those who met the Republican National Committee’s criteria for primary debates. He had not yet been announced as qualified for the Nov. 8 debate in Miami, for which candidates must meet a voting threshold and have 70,000 unique donors. Mr. Pence’s campaign recently reported a debt of more than $600,000.
After entering the race in June, Mr. Pence sought to harness whatever energy remained in the Trump-era Republican Party for a conservative in the mold of President Ronald Reagan. He focused on returning the party to an era when emphasis was placed on fiscal discipline, respect for the post-World War II order, opposition to government interference in businesses and taking a hard stance against abortion.
But Mr. Pence, a former governor of Indiana, had a lot of difficulty raising funds, without ever gaining ground in the polls dominated by his former running mate. He traveled a line between fully attacking Mr. Trump — and defending their administration’s policies — while denouncing the former president for his efforts to cling to power as clearly unconstitutional.
As Mr. Pence’s campaign unfolded, Mr. Trump was twice indicted for his attempts to overturn President Biden’s 2020 victory: in federal court in Washington, D.C. and in Washington County. Fulton, Georgia.
Mr. Trump had pressured his vice president to reject Mr. Biden’s Electoral College victory. On January 6, 2021, this pressure campaign culminated in the attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, with some members of the crowd chanting “Hang Mike Pence!”
Mr. Pence has been praised for his resilience by some who see Mr. Trump as a real threat to democracy. But on the campaign trail, where many Republican voters came out to echo and defend Mr. Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud, Mr. Pence sometimes confronted with antagonistic questions why he hadn’t tried to hand the election to Mr. Trump.
Mr. Pence became more vocal in his criticism of Mr. Trump as the campaign progressed. More recently, after the Hamas terrorist attack on Israelis, Mr. Pence accused Mr. Trump and some of his other rivals of “complacency” for their isolationist approach to international affairs.
Mr. Pence is about to become a key witness for federal prosecutors against Mr. Trump in his trial, scheduled to begin in March, on charges related to his efforts to stay in power.
As he concluded his speech Saturday to the Republican Jewish Coalition, Mr. Pence said, “The only thing that would have been harder than failing would have been if we had never tried at all.” »
And in a clear criticism of Mr. Trump’s behavior, he urged Republicans to “give our country a Republican standard-bearer who, as Lincoln said, will appeal to the better angels of our nature.”