Opinion | Mike Pence delivers a powerful message against Trump - The Washington Post
Category: News & PoliticsVia: jbb • 4 months ago • 9 comments
By: Karen Tumulty Deputy (Washington Post)
By Karen Tumult Deputy Opinion Editor and Columnist August 13, 2023 at 2:19 p.m. EDT
DES MOINES — When former vice president Mike Pence took his turn on the Des Moines Register's soapbox at the Iowa State Fair last Thursday — a quadrennial ritual for presidential contenders — there were, as expected, some hostile shots from the audience.
One man asked Pence why he committed "treason" on Jan. 6, 2021. Another, referring to a brutal interview he had recently done with the right's favorite provocateur, mocked: "How's life going since Tucker Carlson ruined your career?"
But afterward, as Pence lingered to shake hands, there came quieter encounters. Nathaniel Gavronsky, 41, pushed forward to thank Pence for standing on principle that day in the Capitol and refusing Donald Trump's demands that the vice president, in what was a ceremonial role, toss out the electoral votes that made Joe Biden president.
Even as rioters were swarming the Capitol chanting, "Hang Mike Pence," he performed what the Constitution required, Gavronsky told me. "I've researched the heck out of it, and I don't believe there was anything else he could have done."
So will he vote for Pence at January's Republican caucuses in Wayne County, where he lives? Not a chance, Gavronsky said. Which I had already figured out, given that he was wearing a T-shirt that said: TEAM TRUMP.
There has rarely, if ever, been a candidacy more bound in conundrum than this one. As Trump continues to hold what looks like an insurmountable lead in the polls, his once-devoted lieutenant has reluctantly become an essential witness for the prosecution in the Justice Department's case against the former president for criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election. Meanwhile, Pence's struggling campaign has barely gained enough traction to qualify for the stage of the first GOP primary debate.
It doesn't help that social media comes to life every time a heckler calls Pence a traitor or worse. But just as frequent are those rarely recorded moments of affirmation for what history will surely regard as his highest service to the nation during the four years he held its second-highest office.
"Really, from the time we moved home to Indiana, began to travel the country with some regularity, my overwhelming experience has been very humbling expressions of gratitude — standing in an aisle on an airplane, stopped at a grocery store," Pence said when we sat down for an interview a couple of days later in Ankeny. "And now that we've got a campaign going on, more and more people are coming up and saying that now."
His wife, Karen, added: "People at the fair came up with tears in their eyes, just holding back emotion, saying, 'Thank you for saving our country.'"
He is more eager than he once was to remind voters of what he did that day, and his criticism of Trump is increasingly direct and pointed.
The day after the Justice Department released its second indictment, Pence told reporters that his former boss had surrounded himself with "a group of crackpot lawyers that kept telling him what his itching ears wanted to hear." His campaign has started selling red-lettered T-shirts that say "TOO HONEST" — a reference to an episode mentioned in the 45-page document, in which Trump berated his vice president for refusing to buckle, saying: "You're too honest."
But, ultimately, Pence maintains, the events of Jan. 6 will not be what voters have uppermost when they go to the polls. "Elections are about the future," he said.
And therein lies another conundrum, one that Pence will have an even harder time overcoming. It is possible that there will be enough voters in the Republican base looking for a way to move on from Trump. But it is hard to imagine that a vice president who never expressed a significant disagreement with Trump in public until Jan. 6 will be the choice amid a slate of fresher faces in 2024.
Still, Pence assured me, there will be plenty to distinguish him from others on the debate stage in Milwaukee on Aug. 23, as well as from the front-runner, who is likely to be absent.
He is solidly in favor of supporting Ukraine and is dismayed "when I see the former president, when I see others in the field that are walking away from American leadership on the world stage, beginning to embrace the kind of a rising tide of isolationism on the populist right."
Whereas most of the others — including Trump — have put Social Security and Medicare off-limits, Pence regularly argues that the nation's long-term debt problem cannot be solved unless spending for those programs can be brought under control. And even amid growing evidence that the abortion issue is becoming a drag on his party's prospects, he is pushing for nationwide restrictions, rather than leaving the question to the states.
All of this, he said, represents a return to the classic conservatism of his idol, Ronald Reagan. That there is an appetite for that in the GOP is a dubious proposition in the era of Trumpism, a transformation that took place in the party as Pence stood unwaveringly at the president's side. His four years of fealty to Trump are also the reason he is hardly the ideal tribune for what he said is a longing in the country "for us to restore a threshold of civility in public life. Washington has lost a sense of treating one another the way you want to be treated."
Given how doubtful his prospects, it is fair to ask why Pence is running. "I believe I am the most qualified candidate on the stage to bring this country back to the mainstream conservative agenda that always made America strong and prosperous and free," Pence said.
And I, for one, am glad he will be there when the candidates get together in Milwaukee. Because no one could serve as a better reminder of how close the country came to losing that freedom, which starts with respecting its democratic institutions. Now comes his best chance to make that case, even if many in the Republican base don't want to hear it.