Pence skips the Faith & Freedom conference. He is still attacked by Trump.

This year, Pence has taken on a new character in the crowd: a Trump-era dropout that’s probably best not to show his face. And she seems to know. The former veep was invited to the conference but decided not to attend. It was the first time Pence had missed the conference in five years.

“I was a huge fan of hers, but that part of the Republican Party is the educational elites: the old horses are coming out,” said Mary Obersteadt, the immediate past president of Republican Women of Nashville. She wore Trump and DeSantis brooches with rhinestones on the conference lanyard. “I respect him for what she has done and how she has served this nation, but she is so disappointing when she was supposed to communicate and stay with Trump on January 6, they should have been on the same level.”

Pence’s absence from this year’s conference was due to a scheduling conflict, according to conference organizers and the Pence team. On Thursday, he attended a panel discussion with Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.

But while he’s still rooted in the conservative Christian community, having attended an event with the Coalition in North Carolina to engage Christian voters in the Charlotte area, his decision to skip the Faith and Freedom rally underscores the crossroads he’s at. currently politically.

“I think he’s looking for God’s direction in his decision on what to do next,” said Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, who is close to both Pence and Trump, and sits on the political group’s advisory board. by Pence, Advancing American Freedom.

At a time when Pence’s major ideological causes are on the verge of historic success, with the Supreme Court poised to overturn the historic case on the right to abortion, Roe vs Wade – finds himself in the middle of the internal drama of the party. This week, the House Select Committee investigating the unrest on Capitol Hill focused on Pence’s decision to resist pressure from Donald Trump to block the certification of the Electoral College vote count.

While Pence has, so far, avoided discussing the committee’s work, Trump has used his own appearance at the Faith & Freedom conference to attack his veep.

“Mike Pence had a chance to be great, he had a chance to be frankly historic,” Trump said. “But Mike didn’t have the courage to act.”

It was a remarkable moment for a conference that for years past has been a celebration for the former vice president as the top conservative Christian leader. But things have changed since Trump left office. Last year, in the shadow of January 6, Pence was mocked by the crowd and called “traitor” while he was on stage. Now, when asked what they think of Pence or how they view his political future, the attendees sighed or visibly shrugged.

“This is a good question,” said Sandi McGuire, a Christian minister from Raleigh, North Carolina. “Haven’t seen him much. I don’t like talking negatively towards anyone, she did a great job. He came here last year and a percentage booed him. I’m not sure where he is. I wish him the best, but he was nowhere to be found. “

“It’s a little hard, it’s hard,” said Emily Hinojos of Rutherford, NC, when asked about Pence’s political future. “I don’t know where he has been since January 6. It’s hard to say you’re not in their shoes, but we would have liked him to have supported Trump better.”

The mood of the crowd at Faith & Freedom reflected the degree to which Republican politicians are judged not so much by their ideologies but by their relationship with Trump. Ralph Reed, a Republican strategist and founder of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, is close to both Trump and Pence. But when asked if he was surprised by Trump’s attacks, he only said he consulted with Trump’s speech writers yesterday.

“If Mike Pence had wanted to come and had wanted to offer a rejoinder to these people, he could have done so. I’m not saying he should have done it. I told him when I saw him a couple of weeks ago, no damage, no foul, but I said I want you here next year and he’ll be there, ‘”Reed told a small group of reporters after the speech. by Trump.

Pence’s relationship with Trump is deeply complicated. For a few months after leaving the White House, the two talked occasionally. But they haven’t spoken in a year now, even though their paths have occasionally crossed, even when both men approached major Republican donors at a retreat in New Orleans in March. Trump continues to publicly admonish his former vice president, while Pence has remained steadfast in his decision to certify the election.

In recent months, Pence has turned its attention to the midterm. He has offered sponsorships in key mid-term competitions such as Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and organized a fundraiser for the incumbent Rep. Steve Chabot on Thursday. On Monday, he will give a speech on economics at the University Club of Chicago.

“Our path is a little different than everyone else’s at this point,” said a person close to Pence’s political operation, who defended Pence’s decision not to go to the Nashville cattle farm. “And whether he has decided to do this or not, he doesn’t have to go there to get cover.”

But it’s unclear how Pence could build a national profile if he were to lose the full support of his key constituency: the Evangelicals. Not everyone in the field is worried about him. Pence’s aides say he holds appeal throughout the Republican party.

“Vice President Pence controls the hawk lane. He controls the traditional GOP lane. And of course probably the biggest is the Evangelical alley, “Pence’s ally said.

And Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The Family Leader, a conservative Christian parenting organization for the Iowa Family Policy Center, said Pence’s support remains strong among social conservatives and evangelicals in Iowa, especially when the support for Trump wanes.

“Not to play Bob Seger on you, but I think they’re trying to move on,” Vander Plaats said of the Iowa voters he speaks to. “Take the best of Trump and let’s see if Ron DeSantis can carry on that fight, or Mike Pence or Mike Pompeo or Ted Cruz or whoever you put in that game.”

But among those in Nashville this weekend, Pence felt more like a relic of the past than an element of the future. None of the merchandise stalls that lined the conference ballroom entrance featured Pence’s name, while there were piles of red, white, and blue “Trump” and “Trump 2024” T-shirts and hats for sale.

“I feel like he’s been mistreated for so long that he wanted to give his soul and family a break. I don’t think he’s political, he’s personal – he doesn’t want to be attacked right now, ”said Krista Kiepke of Clarksville, Tennessee. “Jesus himself was removed by the disciples to freshen up so that he could do his work, so I look at it.