When it comes to the Republican Party’s presidential field and the Jan. 6 attack, former Vice President Mike Pence has a unique perspective. He was, after all, not only pressured to participate in an illegal scheme on that day, the Indiana Republican was also hunted by radicals who’d been dispatched by his boss, and who intended to do him harm.
With this in mind, Pence did something yesterday that his intra-party rivals did not: He kicked off his national candidacy by focusing attention on the assault on the Capitol. The New York Times reported:
Before a crowd of several hundred on the campus of the Des Moines Area Community College, Mr. Pence focused on something that many in his party have tried to desperately avoid: Mr. Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021.
This was not altogether expected. Pence is no doubt aware of the fact that much of the GOP’s radicalized base not only continues to believe the “Big Lie” about the 2020 election, it also blames him personally for not going along with Donald Trump’s scheme to seize illegitimate power.
But the former vice president went all in anyway. “Jan. 6 was a tragic day in the life of our nation,” Pence said. “But thanks to the courage of law enforcement, the violence was quelled, we reconvened the Congress. The very same day, President Trump’s reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol. ... [T]he American people deserve to know on that fateful day, President Trump also demanded I choose between him and our Constitution. Now voters will be faced with the same choice. I chose the Constitution, and I always will.”
Just as interesting, if not more so, was the standard the new Republican contender was willing to set.
“Anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States,” Pence declared. “And anyone who asks someone else to put them over the Constitution should never be president again.”
In other words, the former vice president effectively established a disqualifying standard: Though he didn’t explicitly reference Trump in the framework, Pence’s words were unambiguous. What the former president did means he “should never be president again.”
The problem is not with the standard. On the contrary, it’s entirely sensible.
The problem, instead, is that Pence doesn’t fully believe his own standard.
We can say this with some certainty because, in a Fox News interview after his campaign kickoff in Iowa, Pence said he will “absolutely support the Republican nominee,” even if it’s Trump.
In other words, as the former vice president sees it, Trump’s actions after his 2020 defeat were so offensive and indefensible that he “should never be president again.” But Pence would vote for him to be president again anyway, because in his estimation, principles are apparently less important than party.
Last night, during a town hall event on CNN, the former vice president went a little further, adding that the Justice Department should give Trump a pass on his alleged crimes, even if federal prosecutors have evidence of Trump’s guilt. Pence argued that applying laws to former presidents might be "divisive," and there are "unique circumstances" surrounding Trump.
The comments came just hours after Pence said he would always put constitutional principles first.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but if Pence doesn’t take his own standards seriously, why should voters?