DES MOINES, Iowa—Even “Iowa nice” has an edge these days, but former Vice President Mike Pence, raised in Indiana, knows that Midwest decorum calls for direct, plain-spoken responses to questions, including those that draw hisses and hoots.
Why, asked a man in a Boston Red Sox cap, didn’t the vice president “do his duty to help the president” on Jan. 6, 2021 and reject the 2020 election’s electoral college ballots and send them back to state legislatures as President Donald Trump insisted he do?
Until then, Mr. Pence’s 2024 presidential campaign pitch had been standard stump spiel.
Standing on a small haystack-framed stage, feet from milling midway passersby, he had 20 minutes to make his case Aug. 10 as the second of 13 presidential candidates who will deliver speeches from the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox during the 11-day Iowa State Fair.
“I’ll answer your question, ‘Boston,’” Mr. Pence responded. “Let me take you to Jan. 20, 2017. I put my left hand on Ronald Reagan’s Bible and I raised my right hand for a vow to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”
Noting it is “the same exact oath” his Marine Corps captain son pledged, Mr. Pence said these are not meaningless words to him but “a promise I made to the American people, a promise I made to almighty God.”
Recalling how the 2020 Trump–Pence campaign lost “more than 60 lawsuits in courts around the country” and that most states had completed recounts “under the law,” he said by Jan. 6, 2021, there was no legal recourse but to fulfill his constitutional duty.
“All that was done,” Mr. Pence said. “If you read Article II of the Constitution—which I very respectfully recommend you do—Article II says once the states send their electoral votes to Congress, the vice president, as president of the Senate, will preside over electoral votes that shall be opened, and that shall be counted.
“It doesn’t say,” he continued, “you can send them back to the states. It doesn’t say you can reject votes, even though my former running mate and many of his ‘outside’ lawyers told me that authority was there. I knew there never was” such constitutional authority.
Mr. Pence is among 13 Republicans struggling to gain traction in a crowded GOP presidential scrum that polls show President Trump, in his second bid for a second term, is dominating despite the pending likelihood of a fourth set of indictments as soon as next week.
With each indictment, President Trump’s support within the Republican Party appears to grow stronger and his grip on the GOP nod to challenge Democrat President Joe Biden seems to solidify.
Mr. Pence said Republicans should look at the facts of the allegations against the former president and recognize, if they want to rid the nation of President Biden’s leadership, “We first need new leadership in the Republican Party … leadership that will sit grounded on the timeless conservative principles that have always made this country great.”
President Trump is not that leader, he said.
“There’s almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could pick the American president. The American presidency belongs to the American people,” Mr. Pence said. “I truly believe, I truly do believe, people deserve to know that the former president asked me to choose him over my oath to the Constitution. I chose the Constitution.”
‘Fair Side Chat’
Despite a gauzy sky, heat radiated on the midway grid within the 445-acre fairgrounds near the State Capitol complex east of downtown Des Moines. More than 1 million visitors are expected before the fair ends Aug. 20.
Earlier on the fair’s opening day, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum made his GOP presidential pitch on the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox and conservative radio commentator Larry Elder engaged in a “Fair Side Chat” with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on the fairgrounds.
All three will be at the Iowa State Fair again with Mr. Burgum and Mr. Pence, as well as Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, sitting down with Ms. Reynolds for morning chats on Aug. 11.
Afterward, Mr. Suarez, Mr. Elder, and businessman Perry Johnson will also be handed a mic and given 20 minutes on the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox’s haystack stage to make their cases why they should be the 2024 GOP presidential nominee.
On Saturday, Aug. 12, at least seven candidates will be on the fairgrounds, including two Democrats and the former president himself.
President Trump, in a campaign event only announced Aug. 8, will appear at a fair venue not affiliated with Ms. Reynolds’s “Fair Side Chats” nor the Des Moines Register Political Soapbox. It is not certain if he’ll offer children rides in the helicopter he will arrive in, like he did during the 2015 Iowa State Fair.
Even without President Trump and helicopter rides for kids, Aug. 12 will be a busy day for corn-dog politicking with entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Trump administration U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—all already campaigning across the Hawkeye State—joining Ms. Reynolds for more chats.
Mr. Ramaswamy and Ms. Haley will appear later that day on Des Moines Register Political Soapbox along with Republican pastor and business owner Ryan Binkley and Democrats Marianne Williamson—who will be on stage as President Trump is speaking elsewhere on the fairgrounds—and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Former Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), and former Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) will be campaigning at the fair next week.