Mike Pence calls out Trump for skipping debate: 'He ought to be on that debate stage'
"He ought to be engaging all of us that are vying for this nomination," he said.
In a wide-ranging interview Tuesday with ABC News' Linsey Davis, former vice president Mike Pence said his former running mate, former President Donald Trump, should be facing the same questions in Simi Valley, California, as the rest of the field, with hours to go until the second Republican primary debate.
"Well, I think he owes it to voters to answer the tough questions and to share his vision for where we lead this country out of the failed policies of the Biden administration," Pence said from outside the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. "I think that Donald Trump today is different than the Donald Trump of 2016. And you bet I think he ought to be on that debate stage."
"He ought to be engaging all of us that are vying for this nomination. He ought to be sharing his vision," he added. "But for my part, I'm going to continue to share a vision of a tested proven conservative that knows those same ideas, those ideas we governed on, those ideas that Ronald Reagan brought forward and brought America back in the 1980s, they're the ideas that are going to bring America back today."
The former vice president offered his usual account of Jan. 6, when asked to react to former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson claiming in her new book that Trump repeated parts of the "Hang Mike Pence" chant along with rioters while watching the attack unfold.
"Well, I wasn't there. I have no idea what was happening at the West Wing. I was -- I stayed at my post that day," Pence said. "Whatever happened down at the White House, I know that what we did that day, what law enforcement did quelling that riot and making it possible for us to reconvene the Congress the very same day and complete our work under the Constitution of the United States. It took a day of tragedy and made it a triumph of freedom, and I'll never see it any other way."
Pence said he was "not familiar with the judge's ruling," when Davis asked if it's fair now to raise on the campaign trail how a New York judge on Tuesday found Trump liable for fraud, but said, "judgments about the president can be made by any American."
"Look, anybody on that stage can bring up any issues they want. I'm going to be focused on the issues the American people are focused on, and the fact that I'm committed to bringing those conservative solutions that have defined our party over the last 50 years, to bear on it, while Donald Trump and others are following a siren song of populism and want to lead our party to a whole different range of policies that I think will ill serve the nation as we try and find our way out of the failures of the Biden administration."
Pence has been cautious not to alienate either side amid the United Auto Workers strike but told Davis he blames the economy under President Joe Biden's agenda for driving it.
"It's a free country. Joe Biden can go to the picket line and grab a bullhorn and talk about his support for members of the UAW, but I gotta tell you, you know, I come from the second leading manufacturing state in the country... I think what's putting those people on the picket line is not the class warfare politics you're hearing about, I think it's that Bidenomics has failed. Wages are not keeping up with inflation, and auto workers know it, just like all American workers," Pence said.
"I heard he didn't stick around very long on the picket line," Pence added, suggesting union workers could have "pulled him aside when the cameras weren't rolling" to question "this aggressive electric vehicle agenda."
"That's the issue that's driving that strike," he said. "And if I'm president, we're gonna go back to it all of the above energy strategy."
While seven Republican candidates including Pence are expected to debate on Wednesday night in California, Trump is holding a rally in Michigan to also shore up support among auto workers, skipping out on his second primary debate.
Pence, a seasoned debater, spoke longer than any of his competitors at the last debate, directing his attacks at political newcomer Vivek Ramaswamy and, at times, interrupting the moderators to get in on the topic of discussion.
The former vice president continues to poll in the single digits, indicated by his position on the debate stage, but his team remains confident in a pathway to victory with a heavy focus on Iowa.
Committed to America, a super PAC backing Pence, told donors in a pre-debate memo that they have surpassed 500,000 doors knocked in Iowa, claiming to be the first organization in the state to do so, and branding Pence as "the clear conservative alternative to Donald Trump."