CHARLESTON, S.C. | Vice President Mike Pence made a swing across a state without a Republican presidential primary Thursday, raising $1.5 million for President Trump’s reelection bid and telling cadets at The Citadel in South Carolina that their commander-in-chief “will always have your back.”
Mr. Pence received the Nathan Hale award from The Citadel Republican Society, which raises money each year to send a new generation of conservatives to the CPAC conference in Washington.
The vice president also spoke to about 2,200 cadets at the military college’s field house, telling them to “be a leader” by setting an example.
“Be men and women of integrity,” Mr. Pence said. “People follow leaders they trust. To lead others, you must lead yourself first.”
The trip wasn’t billed as a pure campaign swing, although it involved fundraising at a pharmaceutical firm in West Columbia and a stop at a barbecue joint to shake hands and pose for pictures with patrons.
The South Carolina GOP canceled its presidential primary this year, a standard move when there is an incumbent president of the same party. The state Democratic Party did the same when Presidents Obama and Clinton were running for reelection.
While speaking at The Citadel Republican Society’s annual Patriot Dinner, where he received the Nathan Hale award, he asked the crowd to give a standing ovation to Sen. Lindsey Graham (Mr. Graham wasn’t in attendance), and thanked the state for sending Mr. Graham to the Senate to defend the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.
The vice president said the nation needs four more years of President Trump and “six more years of Sen. Lindsey Graham.”
Mr. Graham is facing reelection this year.
“This president got more votes than any incumbent president in the New Hampshire primary in 50 years,” Mr. Pence said.
Former Rep. Steve Buyer of Indiana, an alumnus of The Citadel, praised Mr. Pence’s virtue and moral strength. He commended the vice president for his behavior at President Trump’s State of the Union address, saying Mr. Pence applauded politely at the end of the speech while “Nancy the Ripper” shredded a copy of Mr. Trump’s speech next to him.
“The arrogance and uncivil conduct of Nancy the Ripper,” Mr. Buyer said of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “I truly believe that was the low-water mark of her career. I have served with her, good riddance Nancy Pelosi.”
Some of the cadets at the military college will go into the armed forces, others into the private sector. Mr. Pence said either way, their opportunities are strong.
“The America that awaits your energies and ambitions is experiencing a new era of optimism,” he told cadets. “They say timing is everything. You’ve got great timing, because the American economy is booming.”
He recited the administration’s economic achievements, including 121,000 new jobs in South Carolina. “Opportunities will abound for all of you who graduate this year,” Mr. Pence said.
“The strength of our military ultimately comes from the care, courage and character of the men and women who serve,” Mr. Pence said.
But former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who is hoping to revive his campaign in South Carolina, blasted Mr. Pence’s visit, saying Mr. Trump is a poor commander-in-chief.
“This president has dismissed the traumatic brain injuries suffered by more than 100 brave Americans during the Iranian missile attacks against our troops serving in Iraq as ‘headaches,’” Mr. Biden said. “He called our top generals and admirals ‘dopes,’ ‘babies,’ and ‘losers.’ His erratic and irresponsible decision making in the Middle East — from betraying our Kurdish partners and pulling our troops out of Northeast Syria, forcing them to retreat under fire, to his cycle of escalation that brought us to the brink of war with Iran — has made the world more dangerous, and he has given ISIS room to regenerate.”
He added, “The future members of the armed forces that Vice President Pence is addressing today deserve a president who will have their backs, respect their sacrifices, and restore American leadership around the world.”