PHOENIX — Mike Pence joined with Arizona Republicans on Tuesday night to defend the message and character of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
In an address to a crowd of about 1,000 at the Phoenix Convention Center, the Republican vice presidential nominee called Trump a “fighter” and “independent spirit” that could only originate in America because it is the “land of the free.”
“When Donald Trump does his talking, he doesn’t tiptoe around those thousand of rules of political correctness,” Pence said. “He’s his own man. He’s distinctly American.”
Pence also responded to President Barack Obama’s comments that Trump was not fit to serve as president. As he read Obama’s comments from a sheet, the audience jeered and laughed.
“I think Barack Obama knows something about being woefully unprepared to be president of the United States,” said Pence to cheers
Pence condemned Obama, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for pulling troops out of Iraq in 2011. He said the “hasty withdrawal” of American forces created a power vacuum that “conjured up” the terrorist group ISIS.
Pence also condemned the Obama Administration on its economic policy, which he called over-regulatory and bad for business, and its policies toward law enforcement, which he implied was contributing to a rise in the deaths of law enforcement officers.
He said Republican nominee Trump understands the American people far more than their Democratic counterparts, calling Hillary Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention “more of the same.”
“Donald Trump understands the frustrations and hopes of the American people like no leader in my lifetime since our 40th president Ronald Reagan,” Pence said.
Before answering questions, Pence implored the audience to understand the stakes of this election.
“As this election approaches remember this: we are going to be filling the presidency for the next four years,” Pence said. “But this election will likely decide the direction of the Supreme Court for the next 40.” Pence said.
Pence drew praise from some in the crowd.
“I like him. I think he’s going to make a good vice presidential candidate for Trump, and help be his alter-ego, and create an even balance,” said Jim Boomer.
“He’s truthful and saying exactly what the American people are feeling,” said Linda Kavanagh, who is mayor of Fountain Hills.
The “town hall” section of the event consisted of Pence answering various questions from the audience.
One woman claimed that “most new jobs” aren’t given to “Americans” and asked how Trump and Pence would change that. Pence said a Trump presidency will bring economic success and that the nominee is scheduled to deliver a major economic speech next week.
“Real incomes have not risen in more than a decade. And people are struggling, and they know that,” said Pence, who also said that Trump’s plan to build a wall over the Mexican-American border would help America’s economic recovery.
Another questioner asked how homeless veterans will be able to rise out of poverty. Pence thanked the audience member for her “heart,” and pointed out the economic opportunity he was able to give to veterans in Indiana, as well as Indiana’s veterans health program, which Pence called “innovative.” He said a Trump administration would be just as beneficial.
One interesting moment was when an audience member, Mary Kay Nelson, a retired social service worker, asked if Pence had any plans to court the “Hispanic vote.”
Pence replied with an impassioned affirmative, saying “Latino and Hispanic Americans” cared as much about “security”, “quality schools” and “opportunity” as every American. He also called for a celebration of the cultural diversity of the country.
“You know my grandfather was an immigrant; he came through Ellis Island, Pence said. “Other than the Native Americans among us, who we cherish, our fellow Americans, all of us, are the descendants of people who came from somewhere else,” Pence said.
An 11-year-old girl asked Pence why there wasn’t more discussion about ISIS in terms of “military power.”
Pence invoked the September 11th attacks before saying what a Trump administration would do about ISIS.
“When Donald Trump becomes president of the United States, we are going to rebuild our military and hunt down and destroy ISIS,” Pence said.
As Pence was thanking the crowd before leaving, a protestor stood up and started shouting that Trump is a “racist.” The man was shouted down by the crowd with chants of “USA” before being
removed by security.
Pence was preceded by Arizona Republican Party chair Robert Graham, who praised Trump for his business prowess. Graham also urged the audience to ensure Arizona remains a state won by Republicans in the presidential election.
“We need to make sure that Arizona isn’t the weak link in the rest of the nation,” Graham said.
Graham was followed by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who dismissed what he said was criticism of Trump by the media.
Arpaio said that Trump was someone who cared about military veterans, and that he gets “very angry” when people accuse the Republican nominee of not supporting veterans. He also said Trump is sometimes “misinterpreted” on Twitter.
“But I know his heart. And I feel very sad at the heat he is taking, especially from the media,” Arpaio said.
Former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer introduced Pence. Brewer condemned Hillary Clinton for playing what she called the “women’s card”, and called for Arizona to “stay red.” When the audience began to boo Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, she told the audience “don’t boo, vote” – echoing a line used by Obama during his Democratic convention speech.
Former state senator Kelli Ward, who is running in the GOP primary against Sen. John McCain, was in attendance and said afterward that Pence was “open” and “transparent,” and that he gave “great answers.”
McCain criticized Trump on Monday for his conflict with the Muslim parents of a U.S. soldier who was killed in Iraq. McCain has endorsed Trump, but the nominee told the Washington Post on Tuesday that he would not endorse McCain in the primary.