DARIEN, Wis. — Vice President Pence lambasted Biden’s record on trade and manufacturing at a campaign stop here, telling a crowd of several hundred Republicans in a steel-fabricating factory that “NAFTA is history” and that a return to Democratic policies would reverse the job gains the Midwest saw before the economic damage dealt by covid-19.
“The road of socialism and big government decline — that’s the road most of the world has traveled during the modern era,” Pence said at Tankcraft, an hour’s drive from the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee, where Democrats are running some parts of their convention. “America has chosen the path of freedom.”
But just hours before Democratic vice-presidential nominee Harris will speak at the convention, Pence barely mentioned his opponent. Harris, he said, was “one of only 10 senators to vote against the USMCA,” the NAFTA update that passed in 2019 after Democrats made some tweaks to it.
That was one of just two mentions of the U.S. senator from California, whom Republicans have sought to define as a radical figure who would run a Biden administration behind the scenes or even replace him in the Oval Office. It was a contrast with Sunday’s Women for Pence event, where campaign adviser Mercedes Schlapp told a smaller crowd that Harris was “going to be president probably six months after they get elected.”
Pence’s remarks focused more on the Trump administration’s record and on warning that Biden would fail to keep the country’s jobs or cities safe. He also mocked Democrats for scaling down the convention, to the extent where Biden would accept his nomination remotely, from Delaware.
“I heard on the way here that Joe Biden hasn’t been in Wisconsin in 659 days,” Pence said. “I’m here to tell you, get used to seeing us.”
The Darien speech was put together to emphasize the partial recovery of jobs that’s come since the initial blow of covid-19. Banners reading “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” framed the podium, and signs with that slogan were distributed to attendees, along with optional masks and a mandatory temperature check.
Nonetheless, both Pence and the Republicans who warmed up the crowd frequently touched on cultural issues. After the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, one person shouted out that no one had taken a knee. Rep. Bryan Steil (R), who represents the city in Congress, brought the crowd to their feet by saying Republicans would “back the badge” and “oppose those who call to defund police.” Derrick Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL who is running for Congress four counties west of Darien, told the gathered Republicans that they could reelect a president who made them proud.
“You have the choice between those who would kneel before a mob and those whose backs don’t bend and knee only before God,” Van Orden said, a possible reference to a photograph of Biden kneeling after speaking with Black residents of Wilmington, Del., after protests in early June.