WASHINGTON – Former Vice President Mike Pence used a NewsNation town hall Wednesday night to try and convince voters he is the most conservative candidate in the 2024 presidential race.
Touting his “traditional moral values,” he defended Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s military holds and abortion fight with the Pentagon, and he again opposed transgender health care for children. He also reminded viewers that while he wouldn’t dine alone with a woman other than his wife − a promise to protect his Christian marriage − he would consider having a woman as his vice president.
Pence said he’s had “incredible opportunities” in his 64 years of life. The opportunity to run for president came “after much prayer and deliberation” to reach his conclusion: “I am in fact most clearly the most tested, the most consistent conservative running for the Republican nomination.”
However, the mood of conservative voters suggests they may be looking for more of a populist in 2024 than a traditional conservative. There’s a lot of distance between Pence and the Republican frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, who has a double-digit lead in primary polls despite facing four criminal indictments and three civil cases.
Pence is also trailing behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, biotechnology entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in several polls.
But while the polling odds are against him, he’s doubling down on faith.
Here are five takeaways from the town hall:
‘Families are hurting in this economy’
In the first question asked during the town hall, Pence addressed the nearly 150,000 members of the United Auto Workers union who could go on strike Friday if they are unable to reach new contracts.
“The negotiations between UAW and our major auto workers is simply a reflection of the fact that families are hurting in this economy,” he said.
If he was president in this moment, Pence said he would be sitting down with the management of the auto companies and the UAW to figure out “how we can turn the corner on this.”
“This is not just one more contract dispute between auto workers and the big three and automakers in this country,” Pence said. “I think it is symptomatic of the failed policies of the Biden administration.”
Pence further criticized the Biden administration’s economic record, including inflation and gas prices.
His plan on day one of a Pence administration is to “end this war on energy.” Giving full access to America’s natural resources would bring down the cost of energy, he said. “That’s also how we tackle inflation.”
What Pence says about nuclear families and a female vice president
When asked what Pence would do to restore “nuclear families” in the country, a description that traditionally refers to a mother, father and children living in the same home, he said “we ought to be thinking real hard about how we strengthen families.”
He recalled the farewell address of former President Ronald Reagan, who said, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”
“If we can just encourage families to take time for one another, to go home for dinner, to spend time with one another…,” Pence said. “Strong families make strong communities, strong communities make a strong nation, so we’ll work hard to both encourage and inspire but also find ways to support parents.”
Pence said he has always kept the promise in his marriage to not dine alone with another woman − a decades old promise that became more widely known when he became vice president.
When asked if he would consider a female vice president, Pence said he would. If he wins the Republican nomination, he said he would find the person who’s best qualified, best prepared and the most committed to the traditional conservative agenda.
“I’d be looking for agreement on those core values, but looking for a person of great character who, in the event that history calls, would be able to step in and assume those duties,” Pence said.
Pence wants to get rid of ‘radical gender ideology’ in schools
Pence reiterated his opposition to transgender health care for anyone younger than 18.
After tearful questions from an LGBTQ+ voter who said she has faced violence and asked Pence what he would do to protect the transgender community from violence, the former vice president said he could hear her heart as he tried to explain his own.
“The idea that we are telling young, impressionable kids that little boys can become girls or little girls can become boys, I just think is wrong,” he said.
But he said it’s also wrong for the LGBTQ+ community to face violence.
“If I’m president of the United States, I’m going to see to the protection of every American and the rights of every American whether that squares with my values or not,” he said.
In other answers on education, Pence said he wanted shut down the Department of Education and get rid of “radical gender ideology” in schools, send the funding back to the states and give parents the right to choose where their kids go to school.
“I think all of our schools are going to get better because they become more accountable,” Pence said. “In America, we believe in competition. Competition makes everybody better and that’s what school choice does.”
Pence supports Tuberville, says Pentagon should stand down in abortion fight
Pence is supporting Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s military holds, which has blocked about 300 promotions in the Armed Forces.
Tuberville has spent half a year fighting against the Pentagon over abortion policies that provide time off and travel expenses to military members who travel out of state for abortion care.
When asked if Tuberville should stand down, Pence said no.
“The Pentagon should stand down,: Pence said.
He said pro-life taxpayers shouldn’t have their money used on “some liberal Democrat agenda” at the Pentagon. It’s “just wrong,” Pence said.
How will Pence handle immigration?
Pence said that on day one of his administration, he will restart the construction of the border wall and put Title 42, which made it easier to expel migrants at U.S. borders without a typical legal review during the COVID-19 pandemic, back into effect.
He also said that he would expedite asylum applications of millions of people, some of whom have been sent to Chicago and other major cities.
“This is an extraordinary crisis…It’s one more reason why we need new leadership in the White House,” he said.
Pence said he commended New York Mayor Eric Adams when Adams said the migrant crisis was a threat to the city’s communities last week.
“We have a broken immigration system in this country. We have a broken border, but we also have a broken immigration system,” Pence said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mike Pence town hall takeaways include UAW, supporting Sen. Tuberville