Former Vice President Mike Pence on Friday challenged the entire 2024 Republican presidential field to support a 15-week national abortion ban, demanding the party go beyond its main frontrunner, former President Donald J. Trump, to date been willing to go.
“The cause of life is the calling of our time, and we must not rest and not give in until we restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law in every state,” Pence said in a speech Friday at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, a large evangelical gathering in Washington DC. He added, “Every Republican presidential candidate should support a ban on abortion before 15 weeks as a national minimum standard.”
That’s a rule Mr. Trump has so far failed to accept, even though he has taken credit for naming the Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade a year ago.
The former president’s rivals, including Mr. Pence and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, see abortion as a political opening on Mr. Trump’s right wing and an opportunity to appeal to key evangelical voters.
Mr. DeSantis recently signed into law a six-week Florida abortion ban that Mr. Trump says was considered “too strict” by some in the anti-abortion movement. Both Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Pence have used that sentence to criticize the former president.
In a sign of the unquestioned clout Christian conservatives are expected to have in the party’s primary, the Faith and Freedom Coalition meeting is the first opportunity to lure the top candidates for the Republican nomination to the same event. Evangelicals are a particularly large voting bloc in two of the earliest voting states, Iowa and South Carolina.
Seven Republican candidates will address Friday’s meeting in the windowless ballroom of the Washington Hilton, including Mr. DeSantis. Mr Trump will host a gala night on Saturday. The two-day gathering coincides with the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.
“Thank God Almighty for Dobbs’ decision,” South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, another Republican presidential nominee, said Friday.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly avoided taking a clear position on whether he would support a national abortion ban that would limit access to abortion, even in democratically controlled states. In his town hall on NewsMadura earlier this year, Trump said he would make some kind of undefined deal on abortion if he were sent back to the White House. “What I’m going to do is negotiate so people are happy,” Trump said at one point. “Make a deal that will be good,” he said on another.
Missouri Senator Josh Hawley told reporters after his own speech on Friday that a 15-week ban was a “consensus position.”
“The deal should last 15 weeks,” Mr Hawley said. “So, made it easy.”
Mr. Pence was greeted politely in the familiar crowd, but there was notably louder applause for his statement that Mr. Biden should never be re-elected than for his own statement that he was running for president. And the applause was even louder when he vowed, “We will end the gender ideology that is rampant in our schools,” as transgender politics has emerged as a leading motivator on the right.
“God is real, unborn life is life, there are two genders,” Vivek Ramaswamy, another Republican presidential candidate, said in his speech on Friday.
However, the uphill battle for Mr. Trump’s rivals was evident all along.
Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie was booed by the crowd when he criticized Mr Trump and the former president’s tendency to blame aides for his own shortcomings. “That’s not leadership, everyone,” he said, “that’s leadership failure.”
The crowd hissed, with some shouting, “We love Trump!”
“You can love him all you want, but I can tell you that doing things like that is making our country smaller,” replied Mr. Christie.
Earlier, when Mark Robinson, the lieutenant governor of North Carolina running for governor, took the stage to give surprising support to Mr. Trump, he was greeted with a deafening ovation as loud or louder than the rivals of Mr. Trump had ever received.
“This country is at war,” said Mr. Robinson. “We need a warrior.”