It was the speech the nation desperately needed.
Thirteen months ago, that is, not at the close of the news day on a dreary Friday in February 2022.
But former vice president Mike Pence’s belated declaration, before the Federalist Society on Friday, that “President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election” has some hailing him as a hero nonetheless.
“Bravo Mike Pence,” George Conway tweeted almost immediately. Federalist stalwart Conway is (not that it matters?) the husband of Kellyanne Conway, who’s about to make bank on a book about her years fluffing Trump. Mr. Conway was a leader of the petty and partisan push to impeach President Bill Clinton for you-know-what. But he turned Never Trump, and I respect him for that, but I worry that Never Trumpers are turning into Maybe Pencers… and that would be wrong. The Wall Street Journal editorial page called it Pence’s “finest hour.”
“Look, I understand the disappointment many feel about the last election. I was on the ballot,” Pence joked Friday. “But whatever the future holds, I know we did our duty that day.”
A few hours earlier, the Republican National Committee voted not only to censure Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger—both of whom voted to impeach Trump after the January 6 insurrection, and joined the House Select Committee to investigate that scandal—but to name the insurrection “legitimate political discourse.”
That’s why Pence’s 13-months-late weak-sauce rebuke to Trump was kinda brave… but also pathetic. It nonetheless won plaudits from pundits and some Never Trumpers and even some supposed Democrats—but most importantly, it inflamed the debate over whether Republicans are maybe, finally, belatedly or just-in-time pulling away from Trump and going… home. Maybe Pence is home?
The anti-choice Slinky-spined theocrat should be nobody’s idea of a solid home, let alone someone who should hope to occupy the Oval Office. Whether he did something good on Friday or not, he is terrible. According to records compiled by the House January 6 Select Committee and many journalists, Pence knew pretty much everything Trump was planning—and said nothing about the treason he saw at the time. And very little afterward, when he came into direct danger. (Believe me, I did think about whether that constituted courage. I decided it constituted loyalty to his tribe.)
But now, Pence is styling himself a patriot: “There is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person can choose the president,” he said. Stirring.
It’s true that Trump recently upped the stakes in a recent speech to admirers. Explaining why a bipartisan group of members of Congress is trying to clean up the messy 1887 Electoral Count Act, Trump claimed they’re essentially proving he won in 2020. “Actually, what they are saying, is that Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome, and they now want to take that right away. Unfortunately, he didn’t exercise that power. He could have overturned the election!” The Electoral Count Act says no such thing, though its wording is clumsy.
Trump quickly issued a statement rebuking Pence. “I was right and everyone knows it. If there is fraud or large scale irregularities, it would have been appropriate to send those votes back to the legislatures to figure it out,” the delusional former president said.
Pence’s bold-for-a-coward statement is taken as just more evidence of at least one of two things mainstream media wags care about: That Pence plans to run for president in 2024, and that Trump’s hold on the GOP is weakening. Some outlets have been arguing or at least probing what they see as evidence of the latter for more almost a full year:
U.S. News & World Report last April
FiveThirtyEight in late January
These writers and news outlets not making these stories up. There is always evidence that some Republicans are, like desperate hostages, looking to get away from their sadistic captor. Just this weekend, GOP financier Eric Levin chastened RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel and accused her of undermining efforts to take the House. “Not only was the storming of the Capitol on January 6 NOT A LEGITIMATE FORM OF PROTEST, it was criminal behavior warranting prosecution,” he said.
But then there are guys like Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. God bless him—at 87 you’d think he has the freedom not to run, or to run whatever way he’d like. But no, he’s clinging to Trump: “I may have been born at night, but I wasn’t born last night,” Grassley said in a recent Iowa appearance with Trump. “So if I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person that’s got 91 percent of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be too smart.”
Pence is talking, and traveling around the country, like a man who’s running for president. In the unlikely event that Trump himself doesn’t run, he pretty clearly won’t endorse Pence. Support from institutional players like the Federalist Society and the WSJ editorial board make Pence’s moves worth watching. Somebody will lead the GOP ticket in 2024. As Pence himself said Friday, “Kamala Harris will have no right to overturn the election when we beat them in 2024.” That was his biggest applause line, but he neglected to clarify who he meant by “we.”