Former VP Pence to speak at Michigan Republican conference

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Former Vice President Mike Pence will be among the speakers at a gathering this fall of Michigan Republicans on Mackinac Island, according to a source with knowledge of the plans.

The arrangement shows Pence is staying actively involved in national politics and influential GOP figures remain interested in Michigan, a state that former President Donald Trump lost by 3 percentage points to Democrat Joe Biden in 2020.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks before President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Traverse City, Mich. Monday, Nov. 2, 2020.

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The 34th Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, which takes place every other year, will occur Sept. 24 through Sept. 26. The Michigan GOP announced the dates in April and said it would reveal keynote speakers in the coming weeks.

On April 30, the national news website Politico reported that Pence would speak at the conference in a story on his upcoming schedule, entitled, "Pence hits the 2024 circuit." The Detroit News confirmed the information after it was discussed at a Saturday closed-door GOP state committee meeting in Grand Rapids.

Pence was a member of the U.S. House and Indiana governor before becoming Trump's running mate in 2016. He was a frequent visitor to Michigan during the 2016 and 2020 campaigns.

The former vice president has faced criticism from some Trump supporters for not blocking the ratification of the election results as he presided over a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6. Trump had attempted to overturn the outcome with unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud and said in the days before Jan. 6 that he hoped Pence "comes through for us."

At the time, Pence said he had studied the matter and that “my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not."

Trump criticized Pence on Saturday, saying if Pence had the "courage to send the Electoral College vote back to states for recertification," the nation would still have a Republican president.

But Pence, a former talk radio host who's known for his conservative stances on social issues, remains popular among many within the Republican Party amid rumors he could run for president himself in 2024. 

A visit to the Mackinac conference is not the same as showing up in Iowa, the state that traditionally casts the first votes in a presidential primary race, but it's long been a testing ground for those interested in running for president and that makes Pence's visit something to watch, said John Sellek, the founder and CEO of Harbor Strategic Public Affairs.

"It's easier for Pence to put himself in the game despite risking Trump's ire because he has little to lose," Sellek said. "He doesn't have to run for reelection for senate or governor and, despite the age of Biden and Trump, he's nearing the end of his window to make a run."

Republican officials mentioned the Pence's upcoming visit at a state committee meeting that wasn't open to the public over the weekend in Grand Rapids, according to a source with knowledge of discussions.

There was some level of concern among high-ranking Michigan Republicans that activists would push Saturday to censure U.S. Reps. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids Township, at the committee meeting. But that situation didn't unfold. Upton and Meijer were two of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January.

In a Monday statement, the Michigan Republican Party said it had emerged from the committee meeting as "one cohesive team." 

"The Michigan Republican Party has never been stronger," Michigan GOP Chairman Ron Weiser said in the statement. "We are the party of economic freedom and opportunity, and we will ensure the people of Michigan hear our message because the state is crumbling under Democrat Party leadership."

In 2019, Pence, who was then vice president, was among the speakers at the last Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference. That year, Pence faced criticism for traveling from a helicopter at the Mackinac Island airport to the Grand Hotel via motorized vehicles rather than a horse-drawn carriage. Cars are usually banned on the island.

Staff Writers Beth LeBlanc and Melissa Nann Burke contributed.