Mike Pence’s bizarre speech showed how dysfunctional his relationship with Trump really is

·5-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

When the news broke that the United States Capitol was under attack on January 6, we were all glued to our TVs. We know what we saw: A mob of thousands of Trump supporters clad in red MAGA hats, waving Trump flags, and carrying weapons (one of whom even planted pipe bombs outside the Capitol and the offices of the Democratic and Republican National Committee offices and is still at large.) This mob sacked the people’s house and apparently hoped to assassinate both elected lawmakers and even then-Vice President Mike Pence, most likely using the makeshift gallows they’d built outside the Capitol.

Some members of the mob wore swag they’d made for that specific day that read “MAGA CIVIL WAR JANUARY 6 2021.” Others sported pro-Nazi memorabilia, including a shirt that read “CAMP AUSCHWITZ.” One rioter carried a Confederate flag through the halls of the Capitol (something even Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee never accomplished). It’s very likely that, had Officer Eugene Goodman not provoked the rioter at the front of the mob, they would have overrun the Senate chamber and kidnapped or even possibly murdered Pence and an untold number of federal elected officials who were sheltering in place just steps away from the rioters. In surveillance video from inside the capitol, Pence is seen being evacuated from the Senate chamber, his hurried gait suggesting he suspected his life was in danger.

By the end of the day, five people were dead, and hundreds more were injured — including 140 police officers. Now, it looks as though Pence wants that same mob that screamed for his blood to vote for him in 2024.

Pence’s candidacy is likely, given that he recently spoke in New Hampshire at the Hillsborough County Republican Party’s annual Lincoln-Reagan dinner. Having lived in New Hampshire during the 2016 primary, I can confirm nobody goes to the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire unless they plan on running for president (I challenged Senator Bernie Sanders on his support of the F-35 fighter jet in 2014, when he was testing the waters in the Granite State for his eventual presidential campaign.)

In New Hampshire, the former vice president appeared to be testing the January 6 messaging his team likely spent a great deal of time carefully crafting for him.

“President Trump and I have spoken many times since he left office, and I don’t know if we’ll ever see eye-to-eye on that day. But I will always be proud of what we accomplished for the American people over the last four years,” Pence said to raucous applause. “And I will not allow Democrats or their allies in the media to use one tragic day to discredit the aspirations of millions of Americans.”

This messaging of “not seeing eye-to-eye” with Trump — but still celebrating an administration that promoted white nationalism, embraced conspiracy theories, and ended with 400,000 American deaths that could have been prevented were it not for Trump’s reckless Covid response — reflects Pence’s extremely calculated politics. If he hopes to run for president, the former Veep has to tread very carefully. As a May 2021 poll showed, 48 percent of likely Republican voters would vote for Donald Trump if he ran again in 2024. Pence came in a distant second place with just 13 percent support. Because Trump has already teased a 2024 run, Pence could very well be running against his old boss in the Republican primary. If he hopes to capture some of the 48 percent of his base that’s still fiercely loyal to Trump, Pence has to appeal to the violent mob that nearly succeeded in lynching him.

And Pence has already begun the effort to court the deranged MAGA cult — a word that even elected Republicans have used to describe Trump’s base — by promulgating the “Big Lie” that Trump didn’t actually lose the 2020 election. In a recent op-ed for the right-wing Heritage Foundation, Pence railed against Democrats’ legislation to expand voting rights using cagey language that appears to embrace the Big Lie. “After an election marked by significant voting irregularities and numerous instances of officials setting aside state election law, I share the concerns of millions of Americans about the integrity of the 2020 election,” he wrote.

It’s important to note that there is no evidence of “significant voting irregularities” in 2020. Trump and his legal team lost roughly 60 separate court challenges following the election. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, a Republican, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post declaring that “Georgia’s voting system has never been more secure or trustworthy.” The Trump administration’s own Department of Homeland Security issued a statement saying the 2020 election “was the most secure in American history.” Even former Attorney General Bill Barr — a stalwart Trump ally — made a point to dismiss allegations that voter fraud affected the outcome of the election.

Despite all of the overwhelming evidence that Joe Biden won the 2020 election fair and square, a May Reuters-Ipsos poll found that 53 percent of Republicans still believe Trump is the “true president” and that 56 percent of Republicans believe the election was “tainted by illegal voting.” This explains why Pence is underhandedly spreading baseless conspiracy theories he surely knows to be false. Clearly, his appetite for power is insatiable to the point of debasing himself to win the support of the very same insurrectionists and domestic terrorists who wanted to hang him from a tree for refusing to acquiesce to a fascist coup.

The cult of Trumpism has proven to be even stronger than family ties. Even Mike Pence’s own brother, Greg, voted against establishing a bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection that threatened his little brother’s life, suggesting Pence’s effort to win over Trump supporters in 2024 will prove foolhardy. And when your own brother is siding with the man who encouraged a violent mob to kill you, what hope do you really have?

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