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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

At rally, Trump sends an unsettling shot across Pence's bow

When it comes to the Constitution, there is no legal mechanism through which Pence can "come through" for Trump. The president apparently doesn't care.

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A month ago today, Donald Trump traveled to Georgia for his first rally after losing his re-election bid, and the event met expectations. The president lied uncontrollably, aired personal grievances, touted ridiculous conspiracy theories, spread misinformation, and largely forgot about the Republican candidates he was ostensibly there to support.

A month later, on the eve of Georgia's critical U.S. Senate runoff elections, Trump returned to the state for another rally, where he lied uncontrollably, aired personal grievances, touted ridiculous conspiracy theories, spread misinformation, and largely forgot about the Republican candidates he was ostensibly there to support.

But the president also raised a few eyebrows by sending a not-so-subtle shot across Vice President Mike Pence's bow. The Washington Post reported:

At his rally in Dalton, Ga., on Monday night, Trump publicly put pressure on Pence to intervene in this week's electoral college vote tally, telling the crowd that he hopes the vice president "comes through for us." He did not elaborate on what precisely he would like Pence to do. In his role as president of the Senate, Pence will preside over Congress's affirmation this week of Biden's win.

"I have to tell you, I hope that our great vice president, our great vice president, comes through for us," Trump told attendees. "He's a great guy. Because if he doesn't come through, I won't like him quite as much."

The president went on to note how "wonderful" and "smart" Pence is, before adding, "But he's going to have a lot to say about it."

In this case, "it" apparently referred to the outcome of the election he and Pence lost two months ago.

The problem, of course, is that Trump continues to believe the vice president can somehow overturn the results of the election when Congress meets tomorrow to accept the votes of the electoral college. In fact, the president is reportedly "confused" as to why Pence can't simply manufacture the authority to nullify election results Trump doesn't like. If his comments last night were any indication, the outgoing president's confusion is ongoing.

And that's a shame because this isn't especially complicated. As we discussed last week, Congress will accept Joe Biden's victory tomorrow, and Pence will, by constitutional mandate, oversee the process in the Senate, though his role is largely a ceremonial formality.

In fact, the Constitution's language on this is straightforward: "The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted."

There is no legal mechanism through which Pence can "come through" for Trump.

But because the president doesn't know or care about such details, the result is an increasingly awkward dynamic. The New York Times reported that Pence has a choice between siding with "the Constitution or his boss," and the dilemma is apparently challenging.

The article added, "One person close to Mr. Pence described Wednesday's duties as gut-wrenching, saying that he would need to balance the president's misguided beliefs about government with his own years of preaching deference to the Constitution."

This really isn't a tough call, Trump's indifference toward the rule of law notwithstanding.

Update: The president kept this going this morning, tweeting, "The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors."

This is, of course, absurd. Pence cannot unilaterally decide to honor election results he likes, and discard those he dislikes. But what makes this notable is the fact that Trump is increasingly setting up Pence as some kind of villain if he fails to execute a crackpot scheme the president has concocted in his mind.