Mike Pence Booed at NRA Convention, Noem Steals the Show

It was a tough start for the old Hoosier and presumptive presidential candidate in Indianapolis.

Former Vice President Mike Pence stepped on stage at the National Rifle Association-Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum Friday afternoon to a small chorus of boos. The show of disapproval before Pence’s speech was eventually drowned out by his walk-up music (Kid Rock’s Born Free), applause, and a little love for the former governor of Indiana.

“I love you Mike,” a lone voice called out. “I love you, too,” Pence responded, just after nodding to the crowd.

His Indiana favorite son position notwithstanding, some NRA members at the organization’s annual convention still see Pence as a turncoat, believing former President Donald Trump’s second-in-command didn’t come to Trump’s aid following the contentious 2020 election. Trump, the frontrunner among an increasingly crowded field of candidates contending for the GOP presidential nomination, would follow Pence with several speakers at Friday’s main event.

The former vice president has been down this road before. He’s been called a traitor by fiercely loyal Trump supporters for not using his power to overturn the results of the presidential election— power vice presidents do not have under the Constitution.

He did what he has so often done over the past two years: He kept going. Pence delivered a speech packed with the talking points he has offered for months as he mulls a presidential run.

Pence hammered the successes of the previous administration, making sure to emphasize the Trump-Pence administration, particularly Trump’s nomination of conservative justices to the Supreme Court that have protected life and liberty. That includes some monumental victories for the Second Amendment and gun owners.

Noting last month’s mass shootings at The Covenant School in Nashville, Pence said President Joe Biden and Democrats have turned the murders of three children and three adults at the hands of a transgender woman who reportedly identified as a man into the “same, tired arguments about gun control and confiscation.”

“We don’t need gun control. We need crime control,” he said, adding that Biden and his fellow “gun control extremists” need to give up their “pipe dreams of gun confiscation in this free society.”

Pence called for funding to put armed resources officers in every school in the country. He called for a federal death penalty for mass murderers and limits on appeals so that such felons “face execution in months, not years.” And he called for a revamping of mental health policies to put violently deranged people in mental institutions.

And he urged his audience to “elect leaders and stand without apology with those who will stand with the men and women of law enforcement and end the defund-the-police movement once and for all.”

The NRA’s annual meeting, an absolute must-attend for conservatives even remotely considering a run for the White House, drew — in one form or another — most of the declared and presumptive Republican presidential candidates. The speaker lineup at Friday’s Leadership Forum, included former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who earlier this month declared his candidacy, Ohio entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, in the race since February, and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, who is “testing the waters” of a potential campaign.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), who this week launched an exploratory committee, all offered pre-recorded messages to the assemblage.

DeSantis’ video was met with the loudest round of applause from the pre-recorded candidates. The popular governor and baseball fanatic called the Second Amendment “the last backstop of freedom, the foundation on which all our other rights rest.”

DeSantis, who could announce his campaign in the next month or so, noted that he recently signed a constitutional carry bill that brings Florida in line with 25 other states that protect citizens’ rights to be armed “without a government-issued permission slip.”

“I find it curious that the same people who advocate the defunding of law enforcement tend to be the same people who express hostility for individual gun rights,” he said. “They want criminals to have the upper hand over law-abiding citizens.”

Trump, who closed the forum, is also running the show to date. A fresh national polling average of the Republican primary from FiveThirtyEight finds Trump receiving 49.3 percent of the national vote, with DeSantis at 26.2 percent. Pence trails at 5.8 percent, with Haley at 4.3 percent.

Arguably, it was South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem who stole the show. Considered to be thinking, she has demurred when asked whether she plans a run for the White House.

Noem shaped her message around what former NRA president, the late-Charlton Heston once called “those dead, old white guys who invented this country.” The Second Amendment was a right drawn from experience, a gift from a founding generation that knew what it was like to have a government seize liberties and guns. Noem said America is living in a dangerous time of increasing government incursion on our basic rights.

“China didn’t just export COVID to the world, they exported communist lockdowns to fight it,” the governor said, noting that South Dakota was the only state to refuse any lockdown orders.”I was shocked at how quickly people gave up their freedoms.”

Noem called on the pro-gun crowd to continue to fight for the liberty that secures all others, quoting from Thomas Jefferson’s famed aphorism, “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”

She concluded her speech by signing an executive order that blocks state agencies from contracting with financial institutions that discriminate against the firearm industry.

“Governor, God bless you,” said NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre.

It was the kind of political theater that will only inspire more talk of a presidential run.

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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Mike Pence” by NRA



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