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Trump and Pence put stark Republican divide on display

Donald Trump and Mike Pence speak at different events in Washington (AP)
Donald Trump and Mike Pence speak at different events in Washington (AP)

The intensifying rivalry between former US leader Donald Trump and his once fiercely loyal vice president, Mike Pence, was put on stark display as the two gave duelling speeches in Washington on the future of the Republican Party.

Mr Trump, in his first return to Washington since Democrat Joe Biden ousted him from the White House, repeated the false election fraud claims that sparked the January 6 Capitol insurrection, while Mr Pence, in a separate address, implored the party to move on from Mr Trump’s defeat.

Federal and state election officials and Mr Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence the 2020 election was tainted.

The former president’s allegations of fraud were also roundly rejected by US courts, including by judges he appointed.

“It was a catastrophe, that election,” Mr Trump nonetheless declared to an audience of cheering supporters at the America First Agenda Summit, about a mile from the White House.

Hours earlier, addressing a student conservative group, Mr Pence said, “Some people may choose to focus on the past, but elections are about the future.”

The speeches highlighted the divisions within the party between Trump loyalists who still refuse to accept the results of the 2020 election and other Republicans who believe the party should instead focus on the future heading into this autumn’s mid-term elections and beyond.

Donald Trump in Washington
Former President Donald Trump talks about lifting weights as he speaks at an America First Policy Institute agenda summit(AP)

And they come as both men have been laying the groundwork for expected presidential runs.

Mr Trump, in particular, has been teasing his intentions and said on Tuesday that he “may just have to do it again” as he addressed a group of former White House officials and cabinet members who have been crafting an agenda for a possible second Trump administration.

Mr Pence spoke about his own “Freedom Agenda” as he presented a different vision for the party at the conference nearby.

“I believe conservatives must focus on the future to win back America. We can’t afford to take our eyes off the road in front of us because what’s at stake is the very survival of our way of life,” he said in an address to Young America’s Foundation, a student conservative group.

Mr Trump also said America’s survival was at stake. In a speech billed as being focused on public safety, he painted a dark picture of a nation in decline and one in imminent danger from rising crime.

Among his proposals, he called for the execution of drug dealers, sending the homeless to tent cities on the outskirts of cities, and expanding his Southern border wall.

Mike Pence
Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the Young America’s Foundation’s National Conservative Student Conference (AP)

Mr Biden joined in on Twitter, dismissing Mr Trump’s claim to have been a law-and-order president.

Referring to the Capitol riot, the US President tweeted: “I don’t think inciting a mob that attacks a police officer is ‘respect for the law.’ You can’t be pro-insurrection and pro-cop – or pro-democracy, or pro-American.”

Mr Trump, in his remarks, also spent plenty of time airing his usual grievances even as some advisers have urged him to move on.

“If I renounced my beliefs, if I agreed to stay silent, if I stayed home and just took it easy, the persecution of Donald Trump would stop immediately,” he said. “But that’s not what I will do.”

Despite Mr Trump’s reputation for harshly criticising rivals, Mr Pence and other potential Republican contenders have been increasingly brazen in their willingness to take on the man who remains a dominating force in the Republican Party, despite his actions on January 6, when he stood by as a mob of his supporters ransacked the US Capitol and tried to halt certification of Mr Biden’s win.

The former White House partners also campaigned for rival candidates in Arizona on Friday, while Mr Pence’s former chief of staff, Marc Short, recently testified before a federal grand jury investigating the assault on the US Capitol.

Donald trump
Mr Trump remains a popular figure among Republican supporters (AP)

Mr Short was at the building that day as Mr Pence fled an angry mob of rioters who called for his hanging after Mr Trump wrongly insisted his vice president had the power to overturn the election results.

Mr Pence has repeatedly defended his actions that day, even as his decision to stand up to his boss turned large swathes of Mr Trump’s loyal base against him.

Polls show that Mr Trump remains, by far, the top choice of Republican primary voters, with Mr Pence far behind.

That contrast was on display on Tuesday as Mr Trump spoke before an audience of hundreds of cheering supporters gathered for the America First Policy Institute’s two-day America First Agenda Summit.

The group is widely seen as an “administration in waiting” that could quickly move to the West Wing if Mr Trump should run again and win.

Mr Pence, meanwhile, received a friendly – but less exuberant – welcome from the students, who struggled to break into a “USA!” chant.

In his remarks, Mr Pence repeatedly touted the “Trump-Pence administration”.

But the first question he received during a brief question-and-answer session that followed his speech was about his growing split with Mr Trump.

Mr Pence denied the two “differ on issues”, but acknowledged: “We may differ on focus.”

He added: “I truly do believe that elections are about the future and that it’s absolutely essential, at a time when so many Americans are hurting and so many families are struggling, that we don’t give way to the temptation to look back.”