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Pence clears a low bar with acknowledgement of Jan. 6 attack

It's a shame that a modest public acknowledgement of an attack against our democracy now constitutes courage in the contemporary Republican Party.
Image: Mike Pence
Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the annual Hillsborough County NH GOP Lincoln-Reagan Dinner, in Manchester, N.H., on June 3, 2021.Elise Amendola / AP

Former Vice President Mike Pence returned to the campaign trail last night, headlining a fundraising dinner in New Hampshire ahead of a likely 2024 presidential campaign. By some accounts, it was the first visit to the nation's first primary state of any Republican contender in the next election cycle.

And to that end, locals heard rather predictable rhetoric from the conservative Hoosier. Pence pretended the Trump administration was a success; he described systemic racism as a "left-wing myth"; and he thinks Democrats and journalists are coordinating to "discredit the aspirations" of the Republican base.

But there was one part of the former vice president's remarks that stood out as notable.

Former Vice President Mike Pence delivered his strongest comments yet about the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot attack on the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, saying he and former President Donald Trump may never see "eye to eye" on the event.

"January 6 was a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol," Pence said. "But thanks to the swift action of the Capitol Police and federal law enforcement, violence was quelled, the Capitol was secured, and that same day we reconvened the Congress and did our duty under the Constitution and the laws of the United States."

At that point, the Indiana Republican paused, as if he were expecting applause. The audience nevertheless remained silent.

Reading from a prepared text, Pence added, "You know, President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office. And I don't know if we'll ever see eye to eye on that day."

Perhaps their differences of perspective could be addressed by some kind of independent investigation into the insurrectionist attack, with commission members helping document the details of what transpired, creating a historical record resolving the Trump-Pence dispute.

Nevertheless, the fact that the former vice president addressed the Capitol riot at all came as something of a surprise. When Pence spoke in South Carolina in April, for example, he made no reference to the deadly violence from three months earlier. Indeed, his remarks last night were his most detailed to date about the events of Jan. 6 -- when a radical pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, tried to derail the certification of an American election, and hunted the then-vice president while chanting, "Hang Mike Pence."

What's more, the former vice president's remarks were also wholly at odds with the Republican Party's recent efforts to rewrite the history of the Jan. 6 attack. In recent weeks, a variety of GOP lawmakers said the riot more closely resembled a "normal tourist visit" than a deadly attack, and the violent insurrectionists should be seen as "peaceful patriots," whom law-enforcement officials should stop "harassing."

The former president himself has insisted that the Capitol attackers posed "zero threat" and were merely "hugging and kissing the police and the guards" on Jan. 6.

It was against this ridiculous backdrop that Pence received some modest praise last night for conceding that Jan. 6 was "a dark day" and boasting about the certification of President Biden's victory.

But what does it say about the contemporary Republican Party that a modest public acknowledgement of an attack against our democracy is what passes as courage within the GOP?