Mike Pence made a triumphant return to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this evening. The first time in nearly a decade that a sitting vice president has spoken at the annual conference, Pence got a rousing ovation when he made his entrance to the stage. “Hello, CPAC!” Pence greeted the crowd with his wife Karen. The speech was part celebration — a football spike in the end zone — and part recommitment to all of the campaign promises of the past year, most notably the pledge to “repeal and replace” ObamaCare.
In introducing Pence, executive director of the NRA Chris Cox recalled that the organization made its earliest endorsement ever with Trump. They got a lot of grief for that decision over the summer, but said the “soul” of the country was at stake. Donald Trump “fought back” against the lawlessness of Hillary Clinton’s approach to immigration and sanctuary cities. Cox said he knew we could win “the moment Donald Trump picked Mike Pence as his running mate.”
Pence joked about the differences between himself and Trump. “He’s known for his charm and his charisma,” Pence said, “and I’m, like … not.” Pence has a masterful sense of self-deprecatory humor, a way to showcase humility and asking the audience to laugh along with him. The crowd accepted that invitation cheerily.
Mostly, though, Pence came to celebrate. “Donald Trump turned the blue wall red,” he declared to rousing cheers. “This is not government for the establishment and the media,” Pence said, “but it is still government of the people, by the people, for the people,” evoking Abraham Lincoln. He thanked the gathered conservatives in the room, and pledged a return to constitutional order under Trump. “Under his leadership,” Trump said, ramping up his tone, “we are making America great again!”
Pence did commit, once again, to the repeal and replacement of ObamaCare. “ObamaCare’s nightmare is about to end,” Pence said, “despite the best efforts of liberal activists at town halls.” The real fake news, Pence said, were all the lies liberals told about ObamaCare. Given the recent suggestions that Republicans may not want to do a full repeal because of its complexity, Pence’s recommitment was notable. “ObamaCare,” he said, “is going to be replaced by something that works.”
The biggest cheers, though, came when Pence pledged to rebuild the military. “We will hunt down and destroy ISIS!” he declared to a standing ovation. They plan to rebuild and expand the military, a winning message among traditional conservatives that might not play quite as well with populists who want a less interventionist foreign policy. In that same vein, Pence declared complete friendship with Israel. “Their fight is our fight,” Pence said, “her cause is our cause.” It got nearly as enthusiastic reaction as the pledge for the military — bigger than Pence’s later pledge to “make the Hyde Amendment permanent.”
Pence finished with a call to action. “Men and women of the conservative movement,” he declared, “this is our time.” The time is now, Pence warned. “We have to mobilize … as if this was the most important moment of our lives — because it is.” His final words were, “Let’s get to work!”
Pence’s speech will remind people that he is a talent of a more traditional kind of politics, and one of the most effective orators in the Republican Party’s leadership. Trump has a completely different style — an extemporaneous and unapologetic baring of his thoughts. Pence brings a disciplined and thematic approach, delivered in an expertly modulated manner. His tone may be humble, but the effect is to instill confidence. Cox’s comment about the impact of adding him to the ticket, and that impact could be clearly seen in the room tonight.
Tomorrow, CPAC will get to see Trump himself, scheduled for 10:30 am ET tomorrow. Tonight’s entire program is included in the clip below, but you can get to Pence’s speech by forwarding to the 52-minute mark.