Who would want to have been in Vice President Mike Pence’s shoes on Wednesday?
In recent weeks, the more manic voices of Trumpworld have been whispering darkly that Pence would, Peter-like, betray the Trumpian truth in its moment of greatest need. Various zealots repeated Biblical verses at Pence — Esther 4:14! — in a crudely coded attempt to play on his Christian conscience. Was he on the Trumpian side of good? Or with the demonic forces of the deep state and the radical left?
The less stark truth is that Pence’s boss, the President, had hoisted him onto the horns of an awful dilemma. Conduct an executive power-grab over Congress — or betray me and my movement.
On Tuesday, Trump and Pence reportedly had an hours-long meeting in the White House, in which the Commander-in-Chief tried to persuade his Veep that he had the authority to stop Joe Biden from becoming president. Afterwards, Trump ratcheted up the coercion. If ‘Vice President @Mike_Pence comes through for us,’ he said on Wednesday on Twitter. ‘We will win the Presidency.’ Trump was setting up his Veep — a man who has been dog-loyal to him, at least in public — as a scapegoat.
But Pence, who presumably does harbor some ambition to be the next Republican president, resisted the pressure. He said he shared ‘the concerns about the integrity of this election’ but explained: ‘It is my considered judgment that my oath to support and defend the Constitution constrains me from claiming unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted and which should not.’
Was that cowardice, as lots of Trump fans were quick to say? Treachery? Or was it bravery? Pence did not ‘turn on Trump’ — though Trump quickly turned the knife on him. ‘Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!’ Trump said.
Pence, like Jeff Sessions before him, did not deserve this raw treatment from Donald Trump. His public devotion to Trump over the years has made him the subject of much ridicule. But he’s stuck to it. Like Sessions, he just couldn’t do something that he felt would have violated his duties according to the Constitution. He did not want to break his oath of office. By being loyal to something they both regarded as even more important than the President, Sessions and Pence discovered the worst side of Trump the man, who regards anybody that isn’t willing to die for him as weak.
But Pence has not been vindictive. He has made it clear that he in no way supports the use of the 25th Amendment to throw out Trump. He condemned the attack on Congress, and rightly so, but he has not fired back at Trump by accusing him of being irresponsible, of causing the chaos. How tempting it must be for him now to court the approval of CNN or MSNBC by denouncing Trump. He could have imitated the oleaginous Lindsey Graham, who so quickly declared that President Trump’s actions were ‘the problem, not the solution.’ But he didn’t. So far he has behaved with honor, a rare quality in the modern Republican party. Long may that continue.