As the race for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination starts to take shape, high-profile contenders are still trying to figure out what, if anything, to say about Donald Trump. Former Ambassador Nikki Haley, for example, has clumsily dodged questions about where she differs with the former president, as has South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has gone a bit further, though the Kansan, even while taking unsubtle rhetorical shots at his former boss, generally takes great pains to avoid using Trump’s name.
It was against this backdrop that former Vice President Mike Pence went down a path his 2024 rivals have avoided. The Associated Press reported:
Former Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday harshly criticized former President Donald Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, widening the rift between the two men as they prepare to battle over the Republican nomination in next year’s election.
“President Trump was wrong,” Pence said during remarks at the annual white-tie Gridiron Dinner. “I had no right to overturn the election. And his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day, and I know history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”
The Indiana Republican’s rhetoric sparked plenty of headlines, and for good reason: Pence, who was hunted by Trump’s radicalized followers during the violence at the Capitol, broke new rhetorical ground on Saturday night, directly blaming the former president for pushing bogus claims that put people at risk, including Pence’s own family.
He also seemed to send a veiled shot across Tucker Carlson’s bow, adding, “Make no mistake about it, what happened that day was a disgrace. And it mocks decency to portray it any other way.”
But it was the last eight words of the aforementioned quote that served as an important caveat of sorts: “I know history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”
Or put another way, as far as the former vice president is concerned, Trump was wrong, but there’s no need for him to face consequences for his actions — because history can and should be the final arbiter.
It was a timely reminder: For every step Pence takes in a responsible direction, there’s a comparable step back. Indeed, watching him address the issue is a bit like watching a “yes, but” improv exercise.
Yes, Pence is willing to say publicly that Trump was “wrong,” but the former vice president still doesn’t want to answer federal prosecutors’ questions about Jan. 6.
Yes, Pence acknowledges that Trump’s lies were “reckless,” but the former vice president still blames Trump’s lawyers, rather than their client.
Yes, Pence hasn’t forgiven Trump for endangering his own family, but the former vice president is content to let Trump go unpunished, except for history’s eventual verdict.
I can appreciate why it’s significant to see the Hoosier go further than other 2024 contenders when it comes to rebuking the former president, but his comments would pack more of a punch if they weren’t woefully incomplete.