WASHINGTON — Red-and-blue spotlights flashed from the ceiling as former Vice President Mike Pence walked onstage. Anthemic music pumped from the hotel ballroom speakers surrounding him. A few audience members lifted cellphones to snap pictures.
But the festive hues and heavy bass couldn’t distract from the fact that, for many Republicans, the life of the party was just down the street in the nation’s capital, where preparations were underway for former President Donald J. Trump’s speech later in the day.
One of the most uncomfortable splits inside the Republican Party was on clear display on Tuesday as the two-time running mates — and potential rivals on the 2024 presidential campaign trail — were set to offer competing visions for the country from two Marriott hotels separated by less than a mile in downtown Washington.
And on Monday, news emerged that two of Mr. Pence’s top aides had testified to a federal grand jury in Washington as part of the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the events surrounding the riot.
Mr. Pence’s speech, in which he made passing reference to Jan. 6 as a “tragic day,” left out the kind of effusive praise for Mr. Trump that he had regularly injected into his addresses as vice president. Mr. Pence drew subtle distinctions between Mr. Trump’s fixation on the 2020 election and his own preference to fight the next political battles.
“Some people may chose to focus on the past, but elections are about the future,” Mr. Pence said.
He repeatedly referred to the “Trump-Pence” administration’s accomplishments as he called for a movement of cultural conservatives to turn back a “pernicious woke agenda” that was, he argued, “allowing the radical left to continue dumping toxic waste into the headwaters of our culture.”
Mr. Pence celebrated the Supreme Court’s recent ruling eliminating the federal right to abortion, noting that the decision had been made possible because of three justices “appointed by the Trump-Pence administration.”
“We save the babies, we’ll save America,” Mr. Pence said.
A mild-mannered former governor of Indiana, Mr. Pence described himself as focused on the future and eager to tell President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia things he “didn’t want to hear.”
But he couldn’t escape the direct contrast with Mr. Trump. When Mr. Pence finished his speech, the first question from the audience of young conservatives at a Young America’s Foundation conference was about Mr. Trump “and the divide between the two of you.”
“I don’t know that our movement is that divided — I don’t know that the president and I differ on issues, but we may differ on focus,” Mr. Pence said.
Mr. Pence is widely seen as considering a presidential bid in 2024, but he would face stiff challenges.
In a New York Times/Siena College poll of Republican voters this month, just 6 percent said they would vote for Mr. Pence if the 2024 Republican presidential primary were held today, compared with 49 percent for Mr. Trump and 25 percent for Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.