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Trump and Pence give separate speeches to try to appeal to their GOP bases


Former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence both returned to the nation's capital to give dueling speeches yesterday, both speeches suggesting the men are seeking the GOP spotlight ahead of 2024. Scott Jennings listened to both speeches yesterday. He's a Republican strategist and a MORNING EDITION regular. Scott, what's the one big thing you took away from all of it?

SCOTT JENNINGS: Well, the big thing is how remarkable it is that a vice president to a president is going to run against his old boss. It's obvious Mike Pence is running. And his main message was, we have to think about the future. And, of course, Donald Trump's message, at least most of the time, is, we need to relitigate the past. And right now, Donald Trump is on top of Mike Pence. And Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, is between them. But this campaign is happening, and I guess we'll see how it turns out over the next couple of years.

MARTINEZ: Well, I was going to save that for later, but why not? You brought it up - Ron DeSantis. The whole time, Scott, I'm wondering, what does Ron DeSantis think of all this? So what do you think he thought of all this?

JENNINGS: Well, he has the advantage on Mike Pence right now in the polling. He's on top of Mike Pence of the non-Trump candidates who are seeking the nomination. And he probably thinks it's a good thing for Mike Pence to be in the race to some degree because Pence's message is that we need to be conservatives, but we need to move on from Donald Trump. And that's what DeSantis needs Republican voters to think. But it may - he may prefer someone else to say that instead of him at the moment. And that's what Mike Pence is doing.

MARTINEZ: All right, let's get to some of the speeches. Donald Trump focused partly on taking a harder line on crime. Let's listen to that.


DONALD TRUMP: We need an all-out effort to defeat violent crime in America and strongly defeat it and be tough and be nasty and be mean if we have to.

MARTINEZ: Scott, what you think the strategy is behind turning his attention to that issue?

JENNINGS: Well, violent crime in American cities is a huge issue for Republicans right now. I thought it was noteworthy, frankly, that Trump spent some time on an agenda item other than relitigating 2020. And so I would say what he said yesterday will resonate with quite a few Republican voters, even people who are nervous about rolling the dice on a candidacy that's lost the national popular vote in the last two elections. That issue will resonate. Trump's always been good at finding those kinds of issues that resonate among base Republicans. I think he probably hit on one yesterday.

MARTINEZ: All right, Mike Pence. Mike Pence talked about America's future in his remarks.


MIKE PENCE: Now, some people may choose to focus on the past, but elections are about the future. And I believe conservatives must focus on the future to win back America.

MARTINEZ: Scott, some people? Who's some people, you think?

JENNINGS: Oh, it's quite clear some people is Donald Trump. And if you listen to Pence's speech, he checked every box a conservative would want to check - strong national defense, pro-life, protect the Second Amendment. So he hit all the issues. I think the question for Pence is, are Republican voters interested in his kind of candidacy? I mean, he's not exactly Mr. Excitement out on the stump. And he's not - he's never been as good as - at the performative aspects of politics that Trump kind of perfected and that - like, Ron DeSantis and others have sort of emulated in the years since.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, that's the thing with Mike Pence. We kind of know where he stands on a lot of things. But if the GOP is a different kind of party - if it's indeed and still is Donald Trump's party - then he maybe doesn't have the pizzazz that it requires.

JENNINGS: Yeah, there's an attitude. There's an emotional aspect. There's a performative aspect to Republican politics right now. And it's also wrapped up in having all the right enemies. You know, that's one of the things Republican voters liked about Donald Trump. He had all the right enemies, whether it was the right Democratic enemies or the national media or what have you. DeSantis, as we discussed earlier, has a knack for having all the right enemies, too. Pence has never really shown that instinct, and that's where he may come up short if you're looking at attributes for these candidacies.

MARTINEZ: Now, these speeches came just after the January 6 committee laid out the events on that day and the contrasting reactions both men had of the rioters and the counting of the votes. Do you think those hearings, Scott, played any role in the approaches - in the speech approaches by Donald Trump and Mike Pence?

JENNINGS: Well, I think, first of all, Mike Pence deserves a lot of respect from Republicans, whether he gets the nomination or not. He stood up to the mob, he stood up to the intimidation and he stood for the rule of law. And so he always will deserve Republican and American respect for that. I do think Trump's speech about law and order is something of a reaction to what happened to the Capitol Police on January 6. I mean, it's hard to reconcile Trump's message on law and order with what his mob did to the police officers who were bravely defending the Capitol. So I think there could be some...

MARTINEZ: How does he square that, do you think? How does he square that?

JENNINGS: Well, I mean, the way he would square it - and I'm speaking purely for him because I don't believe this. But the way he would square it is that the actions of January 6, that the attitude around January 6, is justified, that people were angry, and they were justified in what they did. I'm sure that's how he would square it. But you can't watch that video and not be vibratingly angry as a Republican, in my opinion, about what happened to the police officers who were overrun, who were attacked, who were beaten that day. I mean, it's really terrible. And he'll never be able to wash that off because it's on video. We all watched it live, and we've all watched it on a loop since that happened.

MARTINEZ: Scott, one more thing before I let you go. According to The Washington Post, the Department of Justice is investigating Donald Trump as part of a criminal probe involving an effort to overturn the election - the 2020 elections. And it's important because no former president has ever been charged with a crime. What do you make of this latest development?

JENNINGS: Well, I'm not surprised. I've always thought perhaps the Georgia electoral investigation was more dangerous to Donald Trump. I'm not a lawyer. I've listened to a lot of lawyers on this, and they've always considered a federal indictment to be a longer shot. But certainly it's better to not be under investigation by the feds than it is. So he's obviously in the crosshairs. And, you know, there's certainly a lot of evidence out there for them to look at. These hearings have been damaging to Trump. Even Republicans who supported him, voted for him twice, are having second thoughts about getting someone the nomination who violated his oath of office on January the 6.

MARTINEZ: Republican strategist Scott Jennings. Scott, thanks as always.

JENNINGS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.