UPDATE, 10:15 p.m., June 24:
Former Vice President Mike Pence hit back at former President Donald Trump Thursday night, cautioning that no single person should be given the power to decide the presidency and firmly rebutted the former president's continued attacks on him.
"Now there are those in our party who believe that in my position as presiding officer over the joint session that I possessed the authority to reject or return electoral votes certified by the states. But the Constitution provides the vice president with no such authority before the joint session of Congress," Pence told the crowd assembled at the Reagan Library in California. "And the truth is there is almost no idea more un-American than the idea that one person could choose the president. The presidency belongs to the American people, and the American people alone."
Pence never mentioned Trump by name, but the remarks were clearly directed at Trump and his supporters, who continue to spread an election lie claiming that Pence could have helped them overturn the results of the 2020 election.
"I understand the disappointment many feel about the last election, I can relate, I was on the ballot," Pence said. "But you know there's more at stake than our party and our political fortunes in this moment. If we lose faith in the Constitution, we won't just lose elections, we'll lose our country. So now more than ever America needs the Republcian Party to be the party of the Constitution of the United States.
Original analysis continues below:
Thursday night might finally be the night former Vice President Mike Pence a man with his own 2024 presidential ambitions starts striking back at Donald Trump, who almost got him killed six months ago.
Pence has been Trump's quintessentially loyal lieutenant. He stood by Trump through the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, after Trump directed a riotous mob, shouting "Hang Mike Pence!", to stop the Pence-led certification of the 2020 election. Pence remained quiet when Trump considered dumping Pence from the ticket in 2020. He skillfully defended Trump's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, foreign policy philosophy, and health care record.
But hecklers at a recent Christian conservative conference in Florida may have provided just the impetus for Pence to finally break from Trump, after five years of stunning obedience.
The jeers shook Pence and his team to the core, said one Republican close to Pence. "They got stung last week when the crowd booed him. It showed the difficulty of this path."
As if to hammer that point, Trump himself stoked the fires of MAGA rage and torched Pence earlier this week, as Trump repeated his false claim that Pence could have overturned the election results on January 6.
Pence's speech on Thursday night at the Ronald Reagan Library is about the future of the Republican Party and aptly named, "A Time for Choosing".
And Pence choosing this moment to stand apart from Trump, who faces significant legal peril and a hint of softening popularity among hardcore conservatives, may mark his best shot to unofficially launch his own quest for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Neither Pence nor Trump have formally declared their 2024 presidential ambitions. But Pence is already been playing the part of candidate, with the former vice president reemerging on the national stage with campaign-like speeches, a new podcast, and a regular column published by friends and allies at the Heritage Foundation.
Pence in April picked a Christian Right group in South Carolina an early primary state for his first address since leaving office.
Then, earlier this month in New Hampshire, which traditionally conducts the nation's first presidential primary, Pence toyed with distancing himself from Trump by telling local Republicans that he and Trump may never see "eye-to-eye" about the events of January 6.
It's clear the hardcore Trump loyalists in the Republican base are unlikely to ever support Pence so long as Trump considers running in 2024.
But it's also clear that this group is steadily shrinking. The longer Trump is out of sight deplatformed from Twitter and Facebook, an infrequent presence on cable TV the more he's out of mind. Perhaps sensing this, Trump is scheduled to headline a campaign-style rally Saturday in Ohio.
Pence must eventually end his ride on the Trump train if he ever expects to build a movement of his own.
For now, Pence remains in "purgatory," said longtime Republican strategist Doug Heye.
"If you want to play Trump's game, you've got to back him up. Pence's certifying the electoral college vote the obviously right thing to do is viewed by Trump as an unforgivable sin," Heye said. "So it's not clear that there's any right way to move forward."
Some Republicans familiar with both Trump and Pence are skeptical he will ever fully break from Trump.
"Because of his religious beliefs and his idea of character, he may get angry, but he's the guy who will go pray on it and wake up the next day with a different demeanor," said one former Trump advisor.
Tonight, expect Pence to play some of his greatest hits, touting work on Coronavirus vaccines (despite deep opposition to getting vaccinated from the Republican base), his work moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and curbing protections for the LGBTQ+ community.
Watch to see if he leans into his applause lines, literally, gripping the podium and ducking ever closer to the mic with each new zinger, as he did last week in Florida.
And, most importantly, wait to learn if Pence makes the riskiest but most politically necessary move of all: coming at Trump, the still-reigning king of the Republican Party.
Tom LoBianco is a Washington correspondent for Insider and author of the Mike Pence biography, "Piety & Power: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House."
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