Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence on Thursday tried to make the case that Donald Trump is the natural heir to Ronald Reagan and said the same forces that propelled the late president into the White House would secure a GOP victory in November.
“Like Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump has the honesty and the bluntness to confront the challenges facing the American people,” Pence said in a speech to hundreds of people at Reagan’s presidential library in Simi Valley.
“And like Reagan, I believe Donald Trump has the toughness to rebuild our economy and command the respect of the world,” Pence said.
“The smart set in Washington, D.C., mocked and dismissed the California governor in many ways,” Pence said. “They said he was little more than a celebrity and an entertainer who entered politics late in life. Sound familiar?”
The speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, a popular stop on the conservative speaking circuit, was Pence’s sole public appearance during a two-day California visit. He also raised money in San Diego, Orange and Kern counties.
Before his speech at the sprawling mountaintop library, Pence and his daughter Charlotte laid a wreath of buff-colored roses at the burial site of Reagan and his wife, Nancy.
Pence told the crowd that included GOP notables such as former Gov. Pete Wilson that the nation’s 40th president has a special place in his heart because Reagan prompted Pence to leave the Democratic Party to become a Republican.
He mentioned Reagan’s son Michael while telling a tale about Reagan’s 1976 loss of the GOP nomination. Left unsaid was Michael Reagan’s outspoken opposition to Trump’s candidacy and refusal to vote for him during the California primary.
“My father would be appalled. I’m certainly appalled on behalf of my father and the Reagan family,” Michael Reagan said in a video Democrats released shortly before Pence’s speech. All three of Reagan’s living children criticize Trump’s incendiary remarks and temperament in the minute-long web video.
Pence spoke broadly of Trump’s and Reagan’s shared political philosophy — strengthening the military and reducing government regulation. But there are notable differences in the men’s policies and styles.
Reagan signed a 1986 amnesty bill that offered legal status to 3 million immigrants here illegally; Trump has called for the deportation of millions and vowed never to offer legal status or citizenship to the 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally unless they return home and get in the back of the line.
Stylistically, Trump is a visceral pugilist with a mostly dark view of the nation’s current condition, but Reagan had the air of a grandfather and spoke in sunny tones.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who has been praising GOP presidents and past nominees of late as she tries to attract moderate Republican voters, also raised the late president as she spoke to reporters Thursday morning in New York.
Pence did not speak with reporters at the library. During his speech, he said that despite differing backgrounds and tones, Trump and Reagan are actually alike because of their honesty and toughness. Pence said he heard a confidence in Trump’s voice that he last heard when he met Reagan at the White House as a congressional candidate in 1988.
“At the very core, both Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump are united in a boundless faith in the American people,” Pence said.
Pence also compared the economic, overseas and social upheaval in the 1970s to the nation’s current state, contending President Obama and former Secretary of State Clinton had imperiled the United States’ security and standing in the world.
“America’s choice has never been clearer, I believe. The most straight-talking candidate since Ronald Reagan is running against one of the most dishonest candidates ever,” Pence said. “Let me say as I stand in this hallowed place, the American people picked a bold truth-teller in 1980 and I know they’re going to elect a bold truth-teller in 2016.”
He said that the same forces that united to power the Reagan revolution, including moderate Democrats, working-class voters and union members, have aligned behind Trump.
“The spirit of 1980 that propelled Ronald Reagan into the White House is alive and kicking again,” Pence said, noting his interactions with voters on the campaign trail. “I see it every day.”
Times staff writer Evan Halper contributed to this report from Washington D.C.
For the latest on national and California politics, follow @LATSeema on Twitter.