If we are the sum of all the things we do in life, then how is it that Mike Pence is judged solely for what he did -- or didn’t do -- on January 6?
Perhaps it’s a sign of the political dysfunction evident in today’s America that Pence has fallen so far so fast in the estimations of conservatives and Republicans since that date nine months ago. While talk is plentiful and debate rages on whether former President Donald Trump will enter the 2024 GOP presidential race, the former vice president’s name isn’t usually included in the chatter as a certainty to run again with the Make America Great Again icon.
In fact, as the days go by, Pence appears to be slipping further and further away from the “what’s next for Trump” deliberations of the politically minded. How many, for example, recall that it was a year ago today that Pence steered the Trump train back onto the tracks by soundly defeating the corrupt, giggling idiot Kamala Harris in the lone vice president candidates’ debate of 2020? Trump was reeling from not only a horrible first debate performance of his own (at the end of September), he was also dealing with having tested positive for COVID-19 and the brief, rally cancelling hospitalization and recuperation period that went along with it.
Many who had all-but written off Trump’s chances of overtaking senile Joe Biden’s polling lead were buoyed by Pence’s steady, competent presence in the forum with Harris. Mike Pence wasn’t flashy or brilliant on that evening, but he was himself -- which used to be good enough for conservatives who demanded results. Pence was always the quiet bystander, the unshakable supporter of Trump, the conscience of conservative America and the steady voice of reason amidst the turmoil of the vitriolic 2020 campaign.
Yet he’s mostly disappeared now, displaced by other possible 2024 candidates such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Trump was asked about DeSantis recently and he gave a very Trump-like answer to a potential budding rivalry between himself and the Floridian. Kaelan Deese reported at The Washington Examiner:
“Former President Donald Trump said … that if he enters the 2024 presidential race, he does not expect to run against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, adding that he'd ‘beat him’ if he did choose to run. Trump [also] said he believed ‘most people would drop out’ if he entered the presidential race, including the Florida governor, who has been a staunch supporter of Trump during his administration. …
“’If I faced him, I'd beat him like I would beat everyone else,’ Trump said. Trump boasted confidence in his ability to receive the Republican nomination again if he ran in 2024 but said he was not ready to commit this early. ‘If I do run, I think that I’ll do extremely well,’ he said, saying that he based his predictions on polling and ‘enthusiasm’ from voters...
“Trump has lauded DeSantis's work as a governor and has played into people's speculation that he and DeSantis would make a good campaign duo, subbing out former Vice President Mike Pence for DeSantis.”
In essence, Pence has basically been forgotten about. There is an occasional news story on Pence making a speech here and there, and pundits love to speculate about the ongoing relationship (or lack thereof) between the 2016 and 2020 GOP candidates, but DeSantis’s name comes up a lot more frequently these days in relation to the upcoming 2024 intra-party contest.
DeSantis’s rise is mostly self-driven, since the 43-year-old is out front on the issues that conservatives care about the most, including but not limited to blasting the hapless Biden administration on immigration, the absurd dictatorial COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates, fighting back against online censorship and the social media barons’ speech squelching tyranny -- and practically every other matter of relevant concern.
I heard someone say the other day that DeSantis is “a more disciplined version of Trump.” That’s a high compliment to DeSantis, because the well-informed conservative GOP base not only knows his name, they’re familiar with his strengths vis-à-vis the man who single handedly transformed the Republican Party into a conservative/populist juggernaut.
Yet Trump is most likely correct in insisting that if DeSantis were to run against him in the 2024 primaries, he (Trump) would win. And the former president is right about another thing, too: If he announces another candidacy, most if not all of the Republican hopefuls will head for the exits. The reason? Not only could they never hope to match Trump’s name recognition, fundraising capacity and experience, they’d be wary of being bludgeoned to dust by the hard-hitting real estate developer turned politician.
Trump’s 2016 rivals surely recall the beating each one of them received in debates and tweets. Social media isn’t an issue these days (thanks to Trump being banned), but Trump still controls the news cycle and the ratings starved establishment media would cover Trump whether they wanted to or not. It’s no secret why the liberal cable news channels have endured severe viewership numbers drops since Trump left Washington.
So if Trump is making a comeback, why isn’t Pence cited right beside him? It’s my opinion, but I believe Trump chose Pence in mid-2016 because he believed adding someone like the Indiana governor to his ticket was the only way to bring the disjointed Republican party back together again in pursuit of a national victory. After all that’s happened since, people forget that Trump was purportedly considering someone like former Tennessee RINO senator Bob Corker for the job, but was convinced to select a proven conservative to please the base and shore up worries over his ideological predilection (or lack thereof).
Taking on Hillary Clinton was a secondary concern at that point, because the primary campaign had been so nasty and personal and there already was a sizable contingent of establishmentarians plotting to challenge Trump’s nomination on the floor of the party convention.
The rancor was out in the open and the wounds were raw, even after Trump announced that Pence would be the second name on the Republican ballot. Conservatives were equally split, too. Remember how Ted Cruz made a brilliant speech in Cleveland (where the RNC was held) but purposely neglected to mention Trump in it and told people to “vote their conscience” instead of wholeheartedly endorsing the party delegate winner?
I was driving home from my daughter’s softball game that evening and only heard the latter part of Cruz’s speech and wondered why the crowd was booing the stalwart conservative so loudly. The Texas senator made it worse -- for himself -- by defending his selfish action to a large gathering of Texas delegates the next day. Ted did eventually get behind the Republican ticket, but it took several months and no doubt, a lot of arm-twisting by friends and politicos to bury the proverbial hatchet.
To Trump, Pence represented a means to bridge the gap created by himself and the rest of the ’16 presidential field. Also recall that Pence endorsed Cruz in the Indiana primary late in the process, but in so doing went out of his way not to insult Trump. That’s the kind of man Pence is, someone with impeccable political manners and personal integrity. Yet not even a year since last serving as Trump’s vice president, it seems like the humble servant is trapped in Trump’s doghouse with a one-way door.
Why? Trump supporters believe Pence possessed the singular ability to stop Joe Biden from becoming president -- and didn’t take the chance. Scholars disagree on whether a vice president (who counts the state-certified Electoral Votes) enjoys the constitutional authority to disallow a state’s delegation. At the very least, such an action would’ve wound up in the courts and might’ve produced a delay in the succession between administrations.
Politically speaking, there wasn’t a clear-cut avenue to take. On the one hand, Pence had his president publicly pleading with him to take one course and the weight of precedent and millions of angry opponents ordering him to rubberstamp the votes, even if there were serious issues left undetermined. Those problems still exist today.
The January 6 incident took place and within a matter of hours Congress reconvened and certified the election, led by Pence performing his constitutional duty to preside. Elected Republicans abandoned Trump in droves and got behind the vice president’s position that day. It took weeks and months for calm to be restored. By the time conservatives started talking again about who might succeed Trump as the de facto Republican leader, Pence was considered a pariah.
Was it fair? It’s for each one of us to decide. But for now, and the indefinite future, Ron DeSantis is seen as the best alternative to run with Trump if he gives it a go in 2024.
There are many good arguments in favor of DeSantis. He’s young; he’s smart; he’s tough; he’s principled; he’s not afraid to mix it up with the media and call them out; he’s from a crucial red state (not really purple anymore); he’s well-liked by conservatives and elements of the GOP establishment; and lastly (there are more, but you have to stop somewhere), he’d be the almost certain Trump-successor in 2028.
Who would fill the role better than DeSantis? No wonder nobody’s talking about Pence anymore.
Mike Pence should not be judged by his January 6 actions alone, but politics is a dirty business and reputations, once established, are incredibly hard to shake. The GOP needs to reconcile the Trump/Pence presidency with the present as well as the future. That will be hard to do if Pence continues to be plagued by accusations of disloyalty on that one day.
2024 GOP presidential field