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Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at a campus lecture hosted by Young Americans for Freedom at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. on April 12.
Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at a campus lecture hosted by Young Americans for Freedom at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville on Tuesday.Ryan M. Kelly / AFP via Getty Images, file

Pence’s comeback tour goes to college and quickly flunks out

The former vice president sounded like an awkward freshman during his speech at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

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Former Vice President Mike Pence has been a politician adrift ever since he was cast from former President Donald Trump’s inner circle for refusing to help overthrow the government in January 2021. 

These days, the former vice president is a pariah in the mainstream conservative movement Trump leads, leaving him floating from group to group in search of anyone who will accept him.

On Tuesday, he found refuge in a bunch of college kids who asked him to deliver a speech at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Pence took to his surroundings pretty quickly and did everything one would expect of a first-year student: He adopted slang that made him sound foolish, he straight-up lied and he overstated his past experiences to make himself look cool. 

Pence’s speech was reportedly billed as “How to Save America From the Woke Left.” That was a rather silly title given it was conservatives — not liberals — who called for Pence to be lynched during the Jan. 6 riot for refusing to comply with their political demands.

Nonetheless, Pence leaned on that word — “woke” — and so-called woke-ism throughout his speech, continuing Republicans’ strategy of trying to poison slang popularized by young, Black people. Today, the word is basically a conservative dog whistle for “Black stuff.” But hearing Pence use it still gave off a cringeworthy, old-man-talking-to-high-schoolers vibe. 

As for the lies, Pence made repeated claims suggesting progressive ideals oppress others and stifle free speech.

“Every day we see efforts to silence, or cancel, those that dare to disagree with the progressive orthodoxy,” Pence claimed, without irony or reference to the right-wingers who’ve openly sought to ostracize him since Jan. 6.

At another point, Pence called critical race theory “nothing more than state-sanctioned racism,” and that’s another lie. As many have reiterated ad nauseam, critical race theory is a college-level field of study that examines systemic racism in U.S. society and law. It isn’t racism, and conservatives claiming it is won’t make it so. 

Lastly, we get to Pence’s shameless overhyping of his past. At one point, the former vice president claimed he “stood toe-to-toe” with Russian President Vladimir Putin “and told him things he didn’t want to hear.”

While that does sound like a cool thing to have done, a Twitter user shared video of the two men standing “toe-to-toe,” and … well … Pence doesn’t seem to have said much of anything at all. Maybe Pence used telepathy to get through to Putin. 

It's possible Pence was more forceful in another meeting with Putin, but he certainly didn't seem to be during this encounter.

Maybe Pence used telepathy to get through to Putin. 

Or maybe — and this is much more likely, given what we heard in the rest of his speech — he was just trying to look cool in front of a bunch of conservative college students.

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