Indianapolis, Ind. — Vice President Mike Pence test-drove some likely 2020 campaign themes at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting, telling tens of thousands of attendees that the country will face a choice between “freedom and socialism” and repeating President Trump’s State of the Union declaration that “this will never be a socialist country.”
This is his third straight year where Pence addressed NRA convention attendees as the vice president, and the first time since 2014 that the convention was held in Pence’s home state. Pence quoted former NRA President Charlton Heston’s famous statement that others could get his guns when they pried them “from my cold dead hands,” and added, “under this president and this vice president, no one is taking your guns. Under this president and this administration, your right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
(A small minority of attendees might wonder if that boast is easily squared with the administration’s bump stock ban.)
Like most elected officials addressing the NRA in recent years, Pence began by focusing on the convention’s preeminent issue and then segued to his traditional stump speech.
We stand with the NRA, because like all of you we stand for freedom — the right of law-abiding citizens keep and bear arms. A freedom that is at the heart of the American story,” Pence said. “Our Founding Fathers won our freedom with the power of their ideas and the powder in their muskets . . . Firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens don’t threaten our families, they protect our families. They don’t make our communities less safe, they make our communities safer.
Pence moved on to tout the administration’s tax cuts, reduction of federal regulations and bragged about this morning’s new economic numbers, showing the GDP growing by 3.2 percent in the last quarter.
“This president has appointed more principled judges in the past two years than any president before,” Pence said. “They are all conservatives who will uphold the God-given liberties in our Constitution.”
Pence predicted that, “When this president leaves office,” — he dramatically paused and added “six years from now” to applause — “history will conclude that no other president in the modern era has done more for more people in so little time.”
The NRA does not lobby on non-firearms issues, but the attendees are a largely socially conservative crowd. When Pence decried recent legislative efforts to ensure the legality of late-term abortion and “infanticide,” and when Pence declared, “We will stand without apology or the sanctity of human life,” he received standing ovation from many of the attendees.
Pence also deployed a new line of criticism against the forming Democratic field, citing Bernie Sanders’ remarks at a CNN town hall earlier this week that all citizens should be given the right to vote, even those currently incarcerated, including the example of the Boston Marathon bomber. “I got news for ya, Bernie: not on our watch,” Pence declared, receiving loud applause.
The Trump Pence 2020 campaign is extremely likely to position the choice as one between socialism and freedom, whether or not Sanders ends up being the nominee.
“It was freedom, not socialism, that gave us the most prosperous economy in human history,” Pence said. “It was freedom, not socialism, that ended slavery, won two world wars and that stands as a beacon of hope for all the world.” (As good as that applause line sounds, historians would argue the Soviet Union deserves credit for beating the Nazis on the eastern front.)
Finally, something I just learned today: the U.S. Secret Service brings their own podium for the president and vice president.