Former Vice President Mike Pence told GOP donors Friday night that the party “cannot win by fighting yesterday’s battles,” while also strongly condemning apologists for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The remarks, at a Republican National Committee event in New Orleans, created further distance between him and former President Donald Trump.
Trump continues to press debunked claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him and Pence. And in the lead-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week, the former president praised Putin’s strategy as “genius” and “savvy.”
“To those who argue that NATO expansion is somehow responsible for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, ask yourself, where would our friends in Eastern Europe be today if they were not in NATO?” Pence said, according to prepared remarks shared with NBC News. “Where would Russian tanks be today if NATO had not expanded the borders of freedom? There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin. There is only room for champions of freedom.”
His comments offered several pointed contrasts with Trump’s public remarks.
“Elections are about the future,” Pence said. “My fellow Republicans, we can only win if we are united around an optimistic vision for the future based on our highest values. We cannot win by fighting yesterday’s battles, or by relitigating the past. Republicans can only win by offering real, lasting solutions to the problems Democrats have created for the American people.”
Pence, who could find himself in a Republican presidential primary with Trump in 2024, has rejected the former president’s claim that he as the sitting vice president had the power to overturn the election results in their favor.
“I heard this week that President Trump said I had the right to overturn the election,” Pence said last month during a speech in Orlando, Florida. “President Trump is wrong.”
But Pence also was expected to attack President Joe Biden and draw contrasts Friday between Biden’s leadership and Trump’s.
“It’s no coincidence that Russia waited until 2022 to invade Ukraine,” Pence said, according to prepared excerpts. “Weakness arouses evil — and the magnitude of evil sweeping across Ukraine speaks volumes about this president.”
Henry J. Gomez is a national politics reporter for NBC News.
The Associated Press