INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana–Thousands of NRA members attending the National Rifle Association’s Annual Meeting gave Gov. Mike Pence an enthusiastic reception during his speech.
Pence touted Indiana’s laws and policies on hunting and self-defense, calling NRA members “the champions of liberty that our nation so desperately leads.” All this was welcome fare for the audience of gun owners from across the nation. But most of his remarks focused on individual freedom, limited government, and economic prosperity–sounding very much like the outline of a presidential campaign.
The speech heavily focused on economic policy and family opportunity.”We have the lowest unemployment rate in the Midwest and we have one of the fastest-growing labor forces in the country,” Pence said as listed his accomplishments. He added that the Hoosier State has the second-fastest improvement rate in math and reading nationwide and “the fastest-growing school choice program in America.”
Pence also obliquely took a swipe at both the Obama administration and profligate Republicans, denouncing deficit spending. “We believe in freedom from debt, which is why we work hard to balance our budget and maintain reserves of $2 billion–no doubt an important factor in making us just one of 11 states with a AAA credit rating from all three ratings agencies,” he said.
His speech pivoted from economic policy to broader principles of limited government. “Indiana is a state that works because in Indiana, we don’t just talk about freedom,” he said. “We live it. We breathe it and we keep freedom at the center of who we are, and it is what makes our state a success. We believe in free enterprise, the freedom to keep more of what you earn. Here in Indiana, we will soon have the lowest taxes in the Midwest. And we have tax cuts scheduled every year through 2021.
“Allow me to encourage you to consider the importance of state-based reform and federalism in our struggle to renew this nation,” Pence continued. Then he added a partisan note sure to score points among the GOP base: “The truth is while Indiana–and many other Republican-led states–are working, Washington, D.C., is not only broke, it’s broken.”
Pence also invoked the two greatest heroes of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan. He quoted the Gipper for support of his federalism argument, citing Reagan’s proclamation, “It’s important to remember that the states created the federal government; the federal government didn’t create the states.” He also spoke about Lincoln’s childhood years in the Crossroads of America before moving west to Illinois, claiming, “Lincoln made Illinois, but Indiana made Lincoln!”
Pence also brandished his credentials as an evangelical Christian who is well known as a fighter for family and social issues, quoting the Bible and extolling the freedom of religion. He then tied this to First Lady Karen Pence, a Christian schoolteacher, making the point that they are as strong of supporters of the Second Amendment as the First Amendment.
“When I met her, she had a handgun and a motorcycle,” he said of his wife. “It was love at first sight.”
Pence closed the substantive part of his speech with a Tenth Amendment appeal:
It will not be enough for renewed majorities in Washington, D.C., to simply cut government spending; we must demand that the next generation of leaders permanently reduce the size and scope of the federal government by restoring to the states and the people those resources and responsibilities that are rightfully theirs under the Constitution of the United States.
As NRA’s top lobbyist Chris Cox said when introducing the governor, Pence had a 100 percent pro-Second Amendment voting record during his 12 years in Congress. But the main takeaway from yesterday’s speech–where he praised those who defend “limited government, personal responsibility, and liberty against the forces of expansive and paternalistic government”–is that Mike Pence might be a dark horse for 2016.
Of course, the question will be whether his actions and policies as governor match his current rhetoric and his 12-year tenure in Congress. If so, he could be a formidable candidate.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal analyst for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.