CHARLESTON, S.C. – While not technically a campaign visit, Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday made a trip to South Carolina an opportunity to rail on Democrats for their failed attempt to oust President Donald Trump from office and for having difficulty tabulating results following last week's Iowa caucuses.
“President Donald Trump was acquitted forever," Pence said to cheers and applause at a dinner in his honor at The Citadel military college, referencing the Senate impeachment trial.
Pence also took the opportunity to criticize House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for ripping up her copy of Trump's State of the Union remarks, musing, “I didn't know if she'd ripped up the State of the Union speech or the Constitution."
Pence's visit comes amid a whirlwind of political attention on South Carolina, which holds its Democratic presidential primary on Feb. 29. On Wednesday, Trump said he would “probably” hold a campaign rally in the state, as he has done in other early voting states, including Iowa and New Hampshire. Next week, he's slated to travel to Nevada, which holds its caucuses Feb. 22.
Citing cost savings and high levels of support for Trump in the state, South Carolina’s Republican Party in September opted not to hold a primary this year, a move that's not unusual for the party of the White House incumbent seeking reelection. But the effort has also helped Trump consolidate his support as Democrats have worked to winnow their large candidate field.
There is no party registration in South Carolina, meaning that Republicans would be free to cross over and vote in the Democratic primary. Some Republican groups in the conservative state have said they are trying to organize efforts to encourage Republicans to vote for progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, angling to take support away from former Vice President Joe Biden, a moderate who has traditionally led support in the state.
In his dinner remarks, Pence poked fun at the slow count of votes in the Iowa caucuses.
“Friday, while the Democrats were still counting votes in Iowa, we were counting 225,000 new jobs in the month of January,” he said. “How about that?”
Pence visited The Citadel to receive the Nathan Hale Patriot Award from the Republican Society, which gave the honor to Trump in 2015 — before he was president — and to former White House adviser Steve Bannon in 2018. In remarks earlier Thursday, he told about 2,000 Citadel cadets that he had never had the opportunity to serve himself but urged them to lead from within.
“Be a leader. Be men and women of integrity. People follow leaders they trust," Pence said. "To lead others, you must lead yourself first. Be an example to those around you.”
Cadets from The Citadel are not obligated to join the U.S. armed forces, although many do. For those who take the oath, Pence thanked cadets for being willing to serve and pledged to support them.
“You will have a commander in chief who will always have your back,” Pence said.
Earlier Thursday, Pence spoke at a fundraising luncheon in Columbia that was closed to the media, raising about $1.5 million, according to his office. On his way to The Citadel, Pence stopped at a downtown Charleston florist to pick up a Valentine's Day bouquet for his wife, Karen.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP