On Sunday, in a speech to the Turning Point USA Student Action conference, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz went out of his way to attack former Vice President Mike Pence.
“Our America is proudly ultra MAGA, not some low energy roadside RINO safari,” said Gaetz, referring to a derogatory term for so-called moderate Republicans. “On that note, let me just say what everyone here knows: Mike Pence will never be president. Nice guy, not a leader.”
Gaetz was, as he is wont to do, playing to the crowd. Ever since Pence did his constitutional duty by certifying the 2020 election results on January 6, the likes of Gaetz – and other devoted followers of Donald Trump – have insisted he is something less than committed to the cause. (The cause? Insisting against all evidence that the 2020 election was stolen and Trump actually won.)
While Gaetz’s shot at Pence then got a good response in the room – clapping, laughter – one person who caught what the Florida congressman said wasn’t pleased. And decided to speak out.
Here’s Marc Short, Pence’s former chief of staff, in an interview Monday night with CNN’s Erin Burnett:
“Well, I don’t know if Mike Pence will run for president in 2024, but I don’t think Matt Gaetz will have an impact on that. In fact, I’d be surprised if he’s still voting. It’s more likely he’ll be in prison for child trafficking by 2024.
“And I’m actually surprised the Florida law enforcement still allows him to speak to teenage conferences like that. So, I’m not too worried what Matt Gaetz thinks.”
And BOOM goes the dynamite!
To truly understand the depth of Short’s burn, a little context is necessary.
1. Turning Point USA is an organization “whose mission is to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote freedom.”
2. Since last spring, the Justice Department has been investigating Gaetz over allegations of sex trafficking and prostitution, including involving a minor. Earlier this year, an ex-girlfriend of Gaetz testified before a federal grand jury. As CNN reported at the time: “The development is the latest signal that the long-running investigation into Gaetz remains active.” Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime.
So, yeah, pretty vicious by Short.
The back and forth is a helpful illustration of the growing split between the forces of Trump and Pence within the party. Trump and his allies like Gaetz have repeatedly insisted that Pence let them down on January 6. Witness testimony in front of the the January 6 committee has suggested that Trump was not only aware of the “Hang Mike Pence” chants from rioters but approved of them.
Of late, Pence and his backers like Short have shown more willingness to engage Trump. Late last week, Pence traveled to Arizona to campaign for Karrin Tayklor Robson who is running for governor against former TV anchor Kari Lake, an election denier who has Trump’s strong backing.
Earlier this year, Pence publicly supported – and campaigned with – Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who resisted Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn the results in the Peach State. Trump backed former Sen. David Perdue in that race. Kemp won by more than 50 points.
Both Pence and Trump are also slated to speak Tuesday in Washington, DC. Pence’s speech comes on the same day that it was announced that a memoir of his time in and out of office – titled “So Help Me God” – will be published later this year. The book promises the “inside story of the Trump Administration by its second-highest ranking official and of a profound faith that has guided Pence throughout his life,” according to the publisher.