- The Washington Times
Saturday, March 5, 2022

Former Vice President Mike Pence is broadening the breach with his former boss, taking a barely veiled shot at former President Donald Trump for offering mixed praise for Russian leader Vladimir Putin even as the Kremlin’s 10-day invasion of Ukraine grinds on.

Mr. Pence, who has already rejected Mr. Trump‘s repeated insistence that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, used a Friday night private address to a group of Republican Party donors to challenge those in the GOP who have dissented from the sharp global criticism of Mr. Putin for provoking the war.

“There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin,” Mr. Pence said, according to excerpts from the speech provided to the press. “There is only room for champions of freedom.”

Mr. Trump has had a complicated relationship with Mr. Putin and the war. He recently called Mr. Putin‘s strategy for pursuing Russia’s strategic aims “smart,” while also insisting the Ukraine invasion would never have happened had he been in the Oval Office.

Mr. Pence, who may find himself running against Mr. Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, also went after President Biden for his handling of the crisis, saying at one point Friday night, “It’s no coincidence that Russia waited until 2022 to invade Ukraine.”

“Weakness,” he added in one excerpt, “arouses evil, and the magnitude of evil sweeping across Ukraine speaks volumes about this president.”

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But it was the remarks clearly aimed at Mr. Trump that are likely to reverberate in the GOP’s upcoming internal clashes. Mr. Pence again Friday pushed the idea that Mr. Trump‘s focus on the 2020 election process will end up hurting the party at the polls.

“Elections are about the future,” he said. “… We cannot win by fighting yesterday’s battles, or by relitigating the past.”

But Mr. Pence’s close association with Mr. Trump and reluctance to criticize his boss for virtually the entire extent of his term has made his course tricky.

Democrats aren’t making it any easier for him.

“Let’s be very clear — Mike Pence stood shoulder to shoulder with Trump as he sold out Ukraine, sided with Putin over our own intelligence agencies, and withheld military aid from Ukraine for his own political gain,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Ammar Moussa said in a statement just hours after Mr. Pence‘s Friday remarks were released.

Mike Pence doesn’t get to whitewash his role enabling Trump cozying up to Vladimir Putin at the expense of our allies just because he wants to run for president.”

• David R. Sands can be reached at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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