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Image: Donald Trump, Mike Pence
President Donald Trump listens as Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the White House on March 22, 2020.Patrick Semansky / AP file

Pence learns a lesson: Trump doesn't believe in partial loyalty

As Trump lashes out at his vice president, I don't blame Pence for being disappointed, but I do blame him for being surprised.


Donald Trump made no effort to obscure his plan: in desperation, the outgoing president demanded that Vice President Mike Pence unilaterally reject election results and hand Trump power he did not earn.

Yesterday afternoon, the Indiana Republican issued a written statement explaining that he simply could not do what Trump wanted him to do -- because the law would not allow it. Hours later, after the president's mob was removed from the Capitol and lawmakers certified President-elect Joe Biden's victory, Pence again broke with Trump's line.

"To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win," the vice president declared. "Violence never wins. Freedom wins. And this is still the people's house."

For his part, Trump kept up his offensive against Pence for much of the day, including tweeting that the vice president "didn't have the courage to do" what the president wanted him to do.

The Tulsa World spoke with Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a longtime Pence ally, about yesterday's violence, and the Oklahoma Republican shared a behind-the-scenes insight.

"I've known Mike Pence forever," Inhofe said Tuesday night. "I've never seen Pence as angry as he was today.... I had a long conversation with him," said Inhofe. "He said, 'After all the things I've done for (Trump).'"

I don't understand what Mike Pence doesn't understand.

The vice president isn't some naïve rookie. He was a member of Congress for 12 years, a governor for four years, and one heartbeat from the presidency for the last four years. He's seen, up close, every decision Trump has made.

And yet, he apparently thought he'd be treated differently, as if there were a vice presidential exception to Trump's madness. One can almost hear Pence whispering, "Wait, the out-of-control monster I spent years enabling is willing to attack me, too?"

Well, yes, of course he is. That's what out-of-control monsters do. I don't blame Pence for being disappointed, but I do blame him for being surprised.

Just in recent weeks, as the vice president really ought to have noticed, Trump saw a series of close political allies -- then-Attorney General Bill Barr, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), and Fox News -- fail to unflinchingly follow his ridiculous demands, which, naturally, led the president to lash out wildly at those who balked at putting his needs above their own.

As we recently discussed, Trump sees limited loyalty as no different from wholesale betrayal. The outgoing president expects and demands total allegiance, even when his requests are illegal.

Trump had no use for loyalty with caveats or limits. He barked an order -- Overturn the results of an election -- and when Pence replied by explaining that compliance simply wasn't possible, he was an ally no more.

It's an updated version of the Bush Doctrine for a new era of Republican politics: either you're with Trump or you're against him, and to be with him means to be subservient to his every impulse. Evidently, it took a little too long for Pence to realize this includes him, too.

Postscript: For what it's worth, if the cabinet considers a 25th Amendment option, the scope of Pence's disappointment may take on a far broader significance.