Former Vice President Mike Pence pledged to fight harder to limit abortion access and called for more religious people to get involved in politics at a gathering of more than 800 mostly Catholic conservatives in Napa Valley Thursday afternoon.
Pence, who’s running for president, won’t garner enough support at the Napa Institute conference to catapult him to the top of the primary field. Former President Trump, who enjoys 52% of support among Republicans, according to poll aggregator FiveThirtyEight, remains the overwhelming favorite to secure the nomination. Pence has averaged just shy of 5% support in recent national polls.
But religious conservatives such as the attendees of the Napa Institute conference are a key part of the GOP electorate, and Pence, a devout evangelical Christian, needs their support if he is to have any hope of becoming the next president.
Pence, who was raised as a Catholic, touted his Catholic school upbringing and his 2020 visit to the Vatican, where the pope gave him a rosary for his mother. He sprinkled his speech with Bible verses and urged attendees at the Napa Institute conference to express their faith by supporting right-wing causes.
“What the world needs today is men and women of deep conviction and faith who will boldly live out their faith in the public square,” Pence said.
The stop in Napa Valley could also help the former vice president connect with wealthy potential donors. Attendees pay $2,800 for a ticket to the five-day convention at the Meritage Resort and Spa, a posh estate nestled in vineyard country.
Pence needs to register 40,000 unique donors by Aug. 21 in order to qualify for the inaugural primary debate in Milwaukee on Aug. 23, but hasn’t reached that milestone.
The Napa Institute was founded by Tim Busch, a wealthy attorney and businessman whose other ventures include an Irvine-based hotel chain and Trinitas Cellars, a Napa County winery. A devout Orange County Catholic who visits the pope nearly every year, Busch has supported religious endeavors across California and the U.S., co-founding St. Anne School in Laguna Niguel and JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano. In 2016, Busch gave $15 million to the Catholic University of America, which named its business school after him.
The conference itself is a blend of religious and conservative orthodoxy, with speeches from figures such as Pence interspersed with masses in the sunshine and courtyard confessionals.
Pence’s call for more people of faith to take active interest in politics was well received, earning two standing ovations. His message aligns with Busch’s: In an article published Sunday in National Review, Busch urged other people of faith to defend the role of religion in national politics. That means preventing states from allowing abortion access and hormone treatment for young people, Busch said.
“This is a witness that we’re giving to the world that believes in same-sex marriage and abortion and transgenderism and who knows what next,” Busch said. “We have to stand up for the truth because it will ultimately set them free.”
Busch awarded Pence the Napa Institute’s “award for life” for his anti-abortion activism. Pence voiced his support for a national minimum standard of 15 weeks to ban abortions, and championed the Trump administration’s appointment of three conservative justices to the Supreme Court, which led to last year’s ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade.
Napa Institute leaders have taken a special interest in the court’s rightward tilt. Leonard Leo, co-chairman of the Federalist Society, is a board member of Napa Legal, an advocacy arm of Busch’s organization. Leo advised Trump on his judicial nominations.
Pence, who has been reticent to rail against his former boss on the campaign trail, defended his decision to certify the 2020 election results, saying he told Trump at the time that he “had no right to overturn the election.”
“I reminded him that we have both taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Pence said. “The Bible says in Psalm 15, ‘He keeps his oath even when it hurts.’ I know something about that.”