IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

What made Trump’s response to Pence unexpectedly strange

We knew Donald Trump would respond to Mike Pence telling the truth about the electoral process. We didn’t know how he’d respond.


After Donald Trump spent much of last week arguing that his former vice president had the unilateral authority to help overturn the 2020 election, Mike Pence did something dramatic: He told the truth and explained publicly that the former president was simply incorrect.

"I heard this week that President Trump said I had the right to overturn the election,” the Indiana Republican said on Friday afternoon. “President Trump is wrong.”

The question wasn’t whether the former president would respond, but rather, how. On Friday night, Trump issued a written reply, though it wasn’t quite in line with expectations. It began:

Just saw Mike Pence’s statement on the fact that he had no right to do anything with respect to the Electoral Vote Count, other than being an automatic conveyor belt for the Old Crow Mitch McConnell to get Biden elected President as quickly as possible.

This was an odd start. For one thing, Trump doesn’t really know what the Electoral Count Act is. For another, his ongoing fascination with the “Old Crow Mitch McConnell” framing is getting a little creepy, and this story really doesn't have anything to do with the Senate minority leader.

But the use of the phase “automatic conveyor belt” stood out in large part because it suggested Trump did not write this statement. He’s never used that phrase before, and given that Trump’s rhetoric from last week raised potential legal problems for him, it stands to reason that his attorneys intervened.

The statement added:

“Well, the Vice President’s position is not an automatic conveyor if obvious signs of voter fraud or irregularities exist. That’s why the Democrats and RINOs are working feverishly together to change the very law that Mike Pence and his unwitting advisors used on January 6 to say he had no choice.”

Note the second use of “automatic conveyor” as well as “unwitting advisors” — phrases that don’t sound even remotely Trumpian — as part of the Republican’s ongoing commitment to the Big Lie. It led to this gem:

“...I was right and everyone knows it. If there is fraud or large scale irregularities, it would have been appropriate to send those votes back to the legislature to figure it out.”

To the extent that reality matters, Trump was obviously wrong and everyone knows it. Indeed, several Republicans fanned out across the Sunday shows, and literally none of them was willing to defend the former president’s bizarre legal theory.

But it was that other sentence that was even worse. Outside of the overactive imagination of ridiculous conspiracy theorists, there was no fraud or evidence of large-scale irregularities. Even if there were legitimate questions — which in January 2021, there were not — the idea that a sitting vice president could unilaterally act as some kind of supreme adjudicator is plainly silly.

Stepping back, what was perhaps most surprising about Trump’s response to Pence is that he largely held his fire. There were no personal condemnations of the former vice president. He did not call him a “RINO” (Republican In Name Only). The former president did not urge his followers to distrust Pence or ignore his assessments.

Perhaps Trump — or those who had a hand in writing this statement — figured the former president has enough troubles, and an extended conflict with Pence, whom most Republicans would side with in this fight, wasn’t worth it?