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New reporting casts Pence's Jan. 6 actions in an unflattering light

After the 2020 election, Mike Pence was prepared to do the wrong thing. He just couldn't find a credible way to pull it off.


Eight months after the events of Jan. 6, former Vice President Mike Pence is generally seen as one of the key figures who did the right thing when it mattered. Despite intense political pressure, from Donald Trump and others, the Republican fulfilled his legal obligations and helped certify the results of the 2020 presidential election after the insurrectionist riot that put him in serious danger.

What we didn't know is that Pence really didn't want to fulfill his legal obligations.

A new book from The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Robert Costa includes details that haven't previously been reported about just how eager the then-vice president was to do the wrong thing. As the Post reported yesterday:

So intent was Pence on being Trump's loyal second-in-command — and potential successor — that he asked confidants if there were ways he could accede to Trump's demands and avoid certifying the results of the election on Jan. 6. In late December, the authors reveal, Pence called Dan Quayle, a former vice president and fellow Indiana Republican, for advice.

Quayle, fortunately, made clear to his ally that he had no choice in how to approach his responsibilities. "Mike, you have no flexibility on this," Quayle told Pence. "None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away," he said.

Pence, unsatisfied and reluctant to honor his commitments, kept pushing, exploring ways to help Trump remain in power, despite having lost the election. Quayle found the ideas "preposterous and dangerous," according to the Woodward/Costa book. Pence nevertheless inquired about whether he could perhaps delay the election certification.

"Forget it," Quayle told him, adding, "Mike, don't even talk about it."

Pence reportedly replied, "You don't know the position I'm in."

As the world saw in January, the then-vice president ultimately played by the rules, a day after telling Trump in the Oval Office that his role was to simply "open the envelopes" as the Senate certified the results of the election.

"I don't want to be your friend anymore if you don't do this," Trump reportedly replied, apparently referring to his coup scheme. He later told Pence, "You've betrayed us. I made you. You were nothing."

And while reports of Trump's child-like tantrum are hardly surprising, it's the larger takeaway that matters: Pence has been heralded in recent months for prioritizing the rule of law, overcoming presidential pressure, and ignoring those who urged him to be corrupt. The Woodward/Costa book casts the Hoosier in a new light: Pence didn't want to prioritize the rule of law; he was prepared to succumb to presidential pressure; and he actively explored ways to corrupt the process.

Or put another way, Pence was prepared to do the wrong thing; he just couldn't find a credible way to pull it off. Far from the image of a heroic figure who valiantly put the integrity of our political system above all, Pence grudgingly did his duty after concluding he didn't have a choice.

To be sure, the earlier cheers for Pence were already dubious. He chose not to participate in a coup. I'm glad, but that's a low bar for any elected official to clear.

But revelations that Pence looked for ways not to clear that low bar serve as a reminder of just how serious the crisis was at the end of the Trump era.