Pence at St. Anselm’s: Populism a ‘road to ruin’ for GOP

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Republican U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Mike Pence speaks during an event in Atlanta Aug. 18, 2023. Pence delivered a speech Sept. 6 on "Populism vs. Conservatism: Republicans' Time for Choosing" at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College, a Benedictine liberal arts college in Manchester, N.H. (OSV News photo/Cheney Orr, Reuters)

(OSV News) — Republicans face a choice between populism and conservatism, former Vice President Mike Pence argued in a Sept. 6 speech at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. The Benedictine institution frequently hosts presidential candidates who campaign in the state’s first-in-the-nation primary.

Pence, who is seeking his party’s nomination for president against his former running mate Donald Trump, who is seeking a second term, argued Republicans should choose “time-honored” conservative principles over “the siren song of populism,” which he said would imperil the GOP and the nation’s standing in the world.

In a speech billed by his campaign as “Populism vs. Conservatism: Republicans’ Time for Choosing” — evoking Ronald Reagan’s 1964 address “A Time for Choosing” that cast that year’s presidential election as a choice between individual freedom and big government — Pence argued populist Republicans “would have us trade in our time honored principles for passing public opinion,” adding, “That is not a trade I am willing to make. Nor should my fellow conservatives.”

Addressing the future of the GOP

“Today I ask my fellow Republicans this: In the days to come, will we be the party of conservatism, or will we follow the siren song of populism unmoored to conservative principles?” Pence said in his remarks at St. Anselm’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics.

“The future of this movement in this party belongs to one or the other, not both,” Pence said.

“That’s because the fundamental divide between these two factions is unbridgeable.”

Broadly defined, populism is a political tactic that claims to champion the common person over a real or perceived elite; it is not a consistent ideology and can include right-wing or left-wing politics, targeting entities such as political parties or corporations.

Pence argued that populism forsakes conservative political ideology in favor of “personal grievances and performative outrage.”

A populist Republican, Pence argued, would “abandon American leadership on the world stage” at the expense of constitutional norms and fiscal responsibility, and would wield government authority to punish perceived enemies.

A call to champion constitutionalism

“If we cease to be champions of our Constitution and all the principles enshrined in it, our party’s relevance will be confined to the history books. It may live on in some populous fashion, but then it will truly be, in a cruel twist, ‘Republican In Name Only,'” Pence said, alluding to the term “RINO.” “For the sake of our party, for the sake of our country, we cannot allow this to happen.”

Pence warned against “prioritizing power over principles,” taking aim at his Republican rivals, including Trump.

“The truth is, the Republican Party did not begin on a golden escalator in 2015,” Pence said, a reference to Trump’s first campaign launch. He also took aim at “the president’s proteges,” including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy, who lead Pence but also trail Trump in second and third place respectively for the GOP presidential nomination, are calling them “fellow travelers on the same road to ruin.”

“The truth is, Donald Trump, along with his imitators often, sound like an echo of the progressives they seek to replace,” he said. “Like progressives, Republican populists insist the government should dictate how private businesses operate.”

“In fact, the Governor of Florida still justifies using the power of the state to punish a corporation for taking a political stand that he disagreed with,” Pence said, a reference to DeSantis’ alleged retaliation against Disney for the corporation’s criticism of a bill banning some discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in schools.

“Should the new populism of the right seize and guide our party, the Republican Party we’ve long known will cease to exist,” Pence said, arguing conservatism includes protecting the nation’s role on the world stage, fiscal responsibility and maintaining constitutional norms.

A Real Clear Politics average of national polls accessed Sept. 6 showed Trump leads the Republican primary field by 53.6%, with Pence at 4.9%.

Kate Scanlon

Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington.