WASHINGTON — As Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Illinois, prepared to campaign with Mike Pence, the former vice president, in his district last month, he braced for a backlash from his party’s right-wing base.
Just days earlier, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on Capitol Hill had reenacted in chilling detail how Pence had resisted President Donald Trump’s orders to overturn his congressional loss, and how Trump’s demands had put the vice president’s life in danger. risk.
LaHood’s fears about the MAGA protesters and hostility toward Pence never materialized; The former vice president received a warm welcome from the crowd at a Lincoln Day dinner in Peoria, Illinois, and at a closed-door fundraising luncheon with the congressman in Chicago, according to people who attended. But concerns about how Pence would be received highlighted the uneasy dynamic that has taken hold as the former vice president quietly campaigns for Republican members of Congress ahead of the midterm elections.
House Republicans helped Trump spread the election lies that brought Pence within 40 feet of a mob that stormed the Capitol clamoring for his execution, and the vast majority of them remain publicly loyal to Trump, which remains the campaign’s biggest draw and most coveted endorsement. path.
But privately, many of them hope that their party can soon return to some version of its pre-2016 identity, when Pence was seen by the right as a symbol of conservative strength, not cowardice, and they want to preserve a relationship with him in that case. .
Pence, who served six terms as a congressman from Indiana, has been eager to campaign for congressional candidates, particularly in the Midwest. He is looking to carve out a viable path of his own for a possible 2024 presidential bid, even if it means helping some lawmakers who continue to spout the election lies that put him in jeopardy.
Over the past year, Pence has appeared at campaign events for more than a dozen members of Congress, happily attending steak fries, picnics and fundraisers that have at times raised half a million dollars each for candidates.
Overall, aides said, he has helped raise millions of dollars for House Republicans, many of whom still view him as a beloved former colleague who often played the role of the Trump administration’s emissary to Congress. On Wednesday, his alliance with congressional Republicans will be on full display when he speaks on Capitol Hill as a guest of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative caucus.
That followed an appearance Tuesday night at a “Young Guns” fundraising dinner hosted by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the minority leader, at the Double Eagle Steakhouse in Del Frisco in Washington. An attendee described Pence’s appearance there as akin to a homecoming for him. Trump was mentioned only in the context of discussing “Trump-Pence achievements.”
“Most Republican officials are going to need people who like and support both men,” Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, said of Pence and Trump. “I think it would be difficult to win most elections with supporters of one or the other.” He added: “We rise above our cognitive dissonance.”
LaHood, who has been endorsed by Trump, was one of more than 120 House Republicans to sign a lawsuit spearheaded by the Texas attorney general seeking to have the Supreme Court essentially overturn election results in major states. undecided. The congressman finally voted on January 6 to affirm Joe Biden’s victory.
But Rep. Jim Banks, R-Indiana, who invited Pence to appear this week, voted against certifying the election results, in line with most Republican members of the House. Still, in the weeks after the Capitol was taken, Banks and a group of other conservative lawmakers who had supported Trump’s effort to overturn his defeat in Congress met with Pence. Banks thanked the vice president for the role he played that day in certifying the election results, even as a mob of violent protesters threatened to hang him.
At the time, Banks said Pence was in a unique position to unite Republicans after the violence and that the former vice president needed to become the party’s standard-bearer, according to people in the room who described the private session on condition of anonymity.
But a few months later, Banks posted a photo of Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, showing a thumbs up next to the former president.
“Make America Great Again,” he wrote as a caption.
A spokesman for Banks did not respond to emails or text messages.
These days, Pence is coordinating with McCarthy and the Republican National Campaign Committee, which House races he wants to target. He has been more interested in campaigning in the Midwest, asking the committee for campaign contacts in the region of the country he used to represent.
Unlike Trump, who throws himself into mega rallies and remains the biggest “winner” for the candidates, Pence’s campaign activities are typically smaller and quieter, rarely attracting national media attention, and sometimes are held behind closed doors.
In February, Pence headlined a Long Island fundraiser for Rep. Lee Zeldin, R.N.Y., who is running for governor, a close Trump ally who voted against certifying the 2020 election results.
“It is something that we will never know for sure the exact consequence of,” Zeldin said at a Republican primary debate, dodging the lie Trump has perpetuated that he was the winner of the 2020 election.
Rep. Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, who like the vast majority of other Republicans voted against creating an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack, hosted Pence as headliner at an inaugural picnic hosted by his family in Iowa last summer.
Speaking to a crowd gathered around folding tables covered in red and white checkered cloth, Pence described serving alongside Trump as “the greatest honor of my life.”
“Under the leadership of President Donald Trump,” he told the crowd, Republicans showed “what you can accomplish if you stand firm and don’t back down from conservative principles.” The crowd cheered.
Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, has stated that “I have no doubt that I think he won,” referring to Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election. Earlier this month, Pence headlined a fundraiser for his Trump campaign. reelection in Park City, Utah.
Pence has also been willing to lend a helping hand to Republican candidates who have clashed with the former president, even when it puts him at odds with Trump.
On Wednesday, Pence endorsed Karrin Taylor Robson in the Arizona gubernatorial race and plans to campaign for her this week. Trump has endorsed his rival, Kari Lake, a former local television host whose campaign is based on the former president’s electoral lie.
Last year, Pence campaigned for Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia. Trump, by contrast, enlisted former Sen. David Perdue to challenge Kemp, who angered him by not working to overturn the 2020 election. (Marc Short, Pence’s longtime top aide and former chief of staff, also joined Kemp’s campaign as senior adviser).
Pence also campaigned for Rep. Marianne Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, who backed the formation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack and is the only member of the state House delegation to whom Trump has not endorsed.
“He’s had a very good reception when he’s been here,” said Miller-Meeks, who also continues to seek Trump’s support.
“I voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020 and I support his policies,” he said. “I am not in any conflictive relationship with the former president.”
Pence has been notably absent from the race involving the House Republican with whom Trump has the most antagonistic relationship: Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chair of the Jan. 6 caucus, who is in an uphill battle for re-election in Wyoming. . Cheney has called Pence a “hero” for standing up to Trump’s pressure campaign.
Trump has backed Cheney’s rival, Harriet Hageman, while Pence has stayed out of the race.
Elsewhere, Pence has quietly encouraged lawmakers who have criticized Trump. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Nebraska, drew the former president’s ire last year by condemning his conduct and supporting the bipartisan infrastructure bill, prompting Trump to call for someone to challenge him.
Pence campaigned for Bacon last September.
“There were people in the crowd who were pretty tough Trump people,” Bacon recalled. “I have some of them on social media criticizing Pence, but I think he can still appeal to a lot of people. He would be a great leader for the party.”
But many Republicans keep those sentiments to themselves, afraid of angering Trump.
Representative Kat Cammack, Republican of Florida. and a close ally of Banks, said there was no ambiguity about his loyalty.
“It’s pretty clear that Banks has been aligned with President Trump since day 1,” he said.
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