Pence Joins 2024 Race With a Call for Fiscal Conservatism and Entitlement Reform
Social Security

Pence Joins 2024 Race With a Call for Fiscal Conservatism and Entitlement Reform

Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Former Vice President Mike Pence launched his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination on Wednesday, using a speech in Ankeny, Iowa, to try to make the case for his brand of conservatism and to draw distinctions between himself and other GOP candidates — particularly, his former boss, Donald Trump.

Pence’s pitch centered on the need for Republicans to return to pre-Trump conservatism, including “a strong national defense, fiscal responsibility and traditional values.” Pence hammered Trump as soft on abortion, Russia and the national debt. He argued that Republicans must “resist the politics of personality and the siren song of populism unmoored to conservative principles.” Pence told the crowd he’s a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, “in that order.” He said that, while he’s proud of his record as part of the Trump administration, the former president was wrong to pressure him to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election and reckless in fueling the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021.

“The American people deserve to know that, on that day, President Trump also demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution,” Pence said. “Now voters will be faced with the same choice. I chose the Constitution, and I always will.”

Pence said that the Republican Party must be the party of the Constitution and that Trump had disqualified himself from the presidency. “I believe that anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States, and anyone who asks someone else to put them over the Constitution should never be president of the United States again,” he said.

A big bet on entitlement reform: As part of his emphasis on fiscal conservatism, Pence touted his past fights against “big spenders” and pledged to extend the Trump tax cuts, put the nation on a path to a balanced budget and address what he called a debt crisis that threatens America’s children and grandchildren.

Yet in his call for fiscal conservatism and his embrace of the Trump administration’s record, Pence left unmentioned “the inconvenient fact that the Trump-Pence administration added around $8 trillion to the national debt,” Jonathan Swan writes in The New York Times. “So much for fiscal conservatism.”

As Swan also notes, Pence is the only major candidate calling for cuts to Social Security and Medicare, embracing a platform that many other Republicans have shied away from recently — and that Trump has rejected in his rhetoric if not in his actual policies since he first ran for the presidency.

“The biggest drivers of our runaway spending are our New Deal and Great Society programs, upon which Americans depend every day — Social Security and Medicare,” Pence said Wednesday, arguing that if those entitlements are “left unchecked and unreformed, they’ll mandate cuts in programs upon which people depend.” Worse still, he said, if the programs are left as is, the national debt will grow dramatically in 25 years “and crush the future of the American economy and opportunities for our children and grandchildren.”

Pence said that Trump and President Joe Biden have taken the same position on entitlement reform. “Both of them refuse to even talk about the issue, take it to the American people,” he said, arguing that they are putting their political fortunes ahead of the country’s future. “As your president, I promise you, I will tell the American people the truth about our debt crisis and we will offer common-sense and compassionate reforms to save these programs for seniors today and give young Americans a better deal tomorrow.”

Biden has proposed higher taxes on the rich to help extend Medicare’s solvency and has pledged to protect both Social Security and Medicare. Trump, meanwhile, has warned Republicans to avoid cuts to Social Security and Medicare in the recent debt ceiling fight and has attacked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a rival for the GOP nomination, as a “wheelchair over the cliff kind of guy” for supporting changes to Medicare.

Why it might matter: Wealthy North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum also announced a presidential bid on Wednesday. With former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie entering the race on Tuesday, the GOP field now totals 10 candidates. Pence may be the most conservative of the lot. His candidacy will set up a high-profile clash with Trump — and might test the degree to which his conservative positions appeal to a Trumpian GOP. On the other hand, political analysts and news outlets generally dismiss the notion that there’s a lane for Pence in the Republican race. “No one cares about Mike Pence,” one Wednesday headline declared.