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Pence Launches $20M Effort To Defend Conservative Principles

Pence in Profile
Thought Leader: Mike Pence
February 21, 2024

Former Vice President Mike Pence has a $20 million blueprint for building out an organization meant to defend the sentiment that conservatism, when properly defined, “is bigger than any one moment, election, or person,” RealClearPolitics is first to report.

This was part of the Pence platform while a presidential candidate when he was warning against “unprincipled populism.” It was not a political winner, but it remains the mission of his group, Advancing American Freedom, as they launch what they call the “American Solutions Project.”

Toward that end, Pence is expanding his operation, hiring new staff, and bringing on faces familiar to the conservative movement. Ed Feulner, founder and former president of the Heritage Foundation, will join the AAF board. So will Victor Smith, chairman of Catholic University’s board of trustees, and Art Pope, North Carolina retail magnate.

Their work is a throwback. Some on the right will find it unfashionable. This is by design.

“Our nation was founded on conservative principles that have stood the test of time. The Constitution and this great American experiment must not be swayed by movements or personalities, but must hold fast to the time-honored principles that have made America strong and prosperous and free,” Pence said in a statement to RCP.

Without pointing to anyone in particular, the former vice president added that “many in the conservative movement have walked away from these principles, chasing the siren song of populism unmoored to conservative principles.” His organization, Pence concluded, will instead “hold high those principles, staying true to the ideals that have made America the greatest nation on earth and I know the American people will rally to our cause.”

The conservatism that Pence seeks to conserve, one his group defines according to “limited government” principles, is meant to contrast with “the populist right and progressive left.”

It is not unusual for politicians to found organizations and nonprofits once out of office, but with his group, Pence is not just adding to the already expanding constellation of conservative groups. He is offering an answer to the ongoing Republican identity crisis, albeit as former President Trump continues to remake the GOP in his own image.

News of the project comes on the eve of the South Carolina primary, as Trump closes in on a third GOP nomination. The group also timed its rollout for the same week as the Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual confab in Washington, D.C., that has become a hotbed for the most diehard fans of the former president.

“There is a void in our movement currently for traditional conservatives,” said Marc Short, who worked as the vice president’s chief of staff, “and many of our flagship organizations have walked away from those principles.”

Short surveyed a movement where “those who once advocated for free trade are silent” as Trump vows to impose a 10% tariff on all imported goods, and one where conservative foreign policy hawks have not just “retreated from their positions in defense of Ukraine,” but are “at this point, more or less sympathizers of Putin.”

The Republican party, and the conservative movement more generally, Short continued, have moved past the old law-and-order rejoinder to adopt an ideology that “promotes rule of man over rule of law.”

Among intellectuals on the right, there was a concerted effort to graft established conservative orthodoxy with the nascent, often changing, ideology of Trump. For his part, Pence served as a sort of in-house conservative conscience, pushing his boss to the right on policy. Since the Jan. 6 riot, however, the two men have gone their separate ways. Trump, and the movement he leads, are increasingly unbound from the kind of conservatism Pence represents.

Despite the Trump-Pence divorce, the AAF group will work with candidates and legislators on a gambit of domestic and international policy issues from “reining in the federal government” and “unleashing American energy dominance” to “promoting free trade with free nations” and “defeating the Chinese communist party.”

Notably, Pence’s group will also focus on restoring U.S. global leadership. According to a one-pager detailing their efforts, this means rejecting “a future of isolation and appeasement” and continuing to “support our partners in Ukraine and Israel in a fiscally responsible manner.”

Ukraine has quickly become a litmus test among the new and old GOP. House Republicans are now refusing to sign off on President Biden’s request to send billions in aid to Kyiv unless the White House commits to additional security on the U.S. southern border. Even before that, Pence was pilloried as a globalist on the campaign trail for his support of Ukrainian allies.

More than just a debate over foreign aid, the new effort comes as many on the right question both the role of America and the modern patron saint of Republicans. During the first GOP primary debate, for instance, when Pence extolled the virtue of the American experiment, Vivek Ramaswamy shot back that “It’s not morning in America,” invoking the optimism of Ronald Reagan not as an applause line but to mock the old school conservatives as out of touch in a new world.

Pence has little patience for those who seek to evolve past principle, and during his campaign, the conservative often argued that the nation needed “government as good as our people again.”

If there is indeed a void on the right, Feulner, who prides himself as “an institution builder,” argued that an elder statesman like Pence is the one to fill it.

“He’s so universally known and very widely respected, not only in the party, but among American citizens all over, as being a sensible and God-fearing person, who knows what the United States is all about,” Feulner said.

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