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Pence Finally Accepts Reality
The former vice president's political career ended on January 6, 2021. How he didn't know that is a mystery.
When I read last week that Mike Pence had dropped out of the 2024 presidential race, I was reminded of an exchange I had with a regular reader of this website shortly after January 6. This fellow, a staunch right-wing partisan who’d just invested four years of his life in rationalizing each and every atrocity of the Trump presidency (for the purported “greater good”), indicated that he was finally ready to step off the Trump Train.
It wasn’t over anything to do with the Big Lie. No, he largely bought into that nonsense (like many on the right did, and still do). He cheered on legal efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and was even quick to rationalize the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol. Furthermore, he was dead set against Trump being held in any way accountable for his role in the riot, claiming efforts to impeach the president were nothing short of “deranged.”
But there was one revelation from January 6 that did appear to give him pause: the realization of just how much of that day’s rage was directed at Mike Pence. It seemed those “Hang Mike Pence!” chants had rattled him in a way that video-clips of MAGA loyalists beating the hell out of Capitol police officers didn’t. And as if he were offering a consolation prize over the loudly expressed murderous intent Pence fortunately escaped that day, the reader declared that he would support Pence over Trump in the next presidential election.
I wasn’t quite buying his story. I mean, this reader, who I’d known online since long before Trump entered politics, had — like much of the MAGA faithful — reversed nearly every principle, position, and standard he’d previously espoused in order to defend the Trump presidency. Now he was ready to dump the guy for Mike Pence, of all people?
I did some prodding, and before long the real explanation came out. The reader believed that, despite his years-long partisan investment in Trump, the fallout from January 6 (which he largely attributed to the media, not Trump) had effectively ended Trump’s political career. And because Trump was now un-electable, in his estimation, the politician he believed was best positioned to be MAGA’s heir apparent was Trump’s loyal vice president of four years.
The reader’s naivety was absolutely adorable. After so closely aligning himself with the MAGA cult for all those years, he still didn’t quite understand the nature of the beast he’d helped foster.
I explained to him that it wasn’t Donald Trump’s political career that had been ended because of January 6. It was Mike Pence’s.
Trump had made Pence the fall guy for his humiliating election defeat, framing him as a traitor to the MAGA movement (and also the country) for refusing to use the power of the vice presidency to save America from the great electoral injustice that had infiltrated our democratic system. The election, according to Trump, had been “stolen,” and he had fingered Pence as the getaway driver for that crime.
Of course, the reality was that Trump plainly lost. Pence had no power to change that, and he simply upheld his responsibility to the Constitution by certifying the election. By completing that procedural act, Pence’s political career was effectively laid to rest.
What’s remarkable is that it took Pence over two and a half years, and a hell of a lot of campaigning, fundraising, and public harassment from Trump fans, to finally figure that out. In many ways, Pence was every bit as naive as the aforementioned reader.
The former vice president has now taken his preordained position alongside many other capable, once promising Republican leaders who were forced into early political retirement for committing the cardinal sin of — if even just once — putting the country ahead of Donald Trump’s ego.
Do I feel sorry for Pence? No, not really. I certainly appreciate that he did his job on January 6, and I liked that he themed his presidential campaign after the conservative wisdom, principles, and virtue of Reagan Republicanism. But after four years of often going well outside of his job-description as vice president to normalize the deviancy of the man at the top of the administration he served, Pence had a patriotic responsibility (and extremely important role to play in American history) after January 6 to seek — or at minimum, support — public accountability for our nation being denied of its peaceful transfer of power.
He didn’t do that. Instead he fell largely silent on the matter, disappeared from the public eye, and left the party’s heavy-lifting entirely up to a handful of brave Republican leaders in the U.S. Congress who, over the next few weeks and months, sacrificed their own political futures to do the right thing.
Even later on, as the January 6 Committee’s findings were painting a picture of Pence as a man of principle and heroism on that fateful day, the former vice president criticized the committee’s efforts, and refused to provide its members with testimony on what had happened during the final weeks of the administration. It wasn’t until Pence was a declared presidential candidate, years after the insurrection, that he became comfortable publicly assigning at least some blame to Trump for what had happened.
Pence grew a little bolder in his rhetoric as his campaign became more desperate, even saying, “Anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be president of the United States.” Yet, to this day, Pence vows to support Trump for president again, should Trump become the party’s nominee.
The inability to square that circle, along with Pence’s decision to sit on the sidelines while other GOP leaders and the right-wing media worked hard to rehabilitate Trump after January 6, alienated lots of traditional, conservative Republicans whose support Pence and his campaign-platform would have otherwise attracted.
Going into the 2024 presidential cycle, Pence had left himself with no real political lane to occupy. He was a man whose hypothetical constituency relied on party-leadership that he was unwilling to demonstrate when Republicans were at a point of inflection years earlier. If he had stood up at that time, in strong support of truth-tellers and accountability-seekers in his party, and called on other Republican leaders to do the same, it assuredly wouldn’t have saved his own political future… but it may have helped initiate a healing process within the party that would by now be paying strong political dividends to candidates who share Pence’s (and Reagan’s) political vision.
Instead, a directionless Republican party continues to lose winnable elections, and suffer immense political dysfunction, as it sleep-walks toward renominating a guy who not only embodies much of what Pence claims to be against, but whose primary motivation for running is to stay out of prison.
Happy retirement, Mike. Be sure to send us a postcard.