Mike Pence has a fever and the only prescription is more ... Joe Arpaio

Lotta agita over this on both sides of political media today, I think because Pence is still held to a slightly higher standard than Trump is. He spent most of his career as a dogmatic conservative and even endorsed Ted Cruz (verrrry reluctantly) over Trump before the Indiana primary in 2016. He gets the same benefit of the doubt from the politerati that Kellyanne Conway does: He and she are old hands in D.C. and therefore they’re supposed to “know better.” Trump calling a guy a champion of the rule of law who once referred to his own prison as a concentration camp is Trump being Trump. Pence doing it is empirical proof of how the Trumpist virus infects the brains of those in close contact with it.

I like Charlie Sykes’s takeaway: “Absolute Trump Corrupts Absolutely.”

Far from being a champion of the “rule of law,” Arpaio is a man who defied the law to violate constitutional rights. He was convicted of criminal contempt for violating a federal court order to stop detaining immigrants who had not broken the law.

Indeed, his pardon by Trump last year was actually an insult to law enforcement. Good cops regard Arpaio as a clownish fraud who defames the profession. Far from being a martyr who was persecuted for “doing his job,” Arpaio is a caricature of law enforcement—living up to every stereotype of a lawless, brutal, racist cop, who ignored fundamental rights and reveled in calculated cruelty. Pre-Trump, one would like to think that Mike Pence would have known this and cared about it.

None of this is a secret. Had Pence read National Review’s scathing piece from January , one hopes he might have hesitated. The magazine described the man whose presence “honored” Pence as a “limelight-seeking octogenarian petty criminal, a serial abuser of police power, a man who oversaw inhuman and indeed homicidal brutality committed against blind and paralyzed prisoners in his custody, a preening huckster of the first order.”

Sykes lists 10 lowlights of Arpaio’s career but the list isn’t exhaustive. He forgot this one, for instance. Trump nemesis Joe Scarborough couldn’t believe Pence’s “rule of law” babbling either: “This is a guy who would torture, kill, allow rapes, allow sexual assaults to continue, would intentionally harass Americans of Hispanic heritage… Chapter and verse, one of the most contemptible examples of a public servant abusing their office, and doing everything to undermine basic American values … what would lead Mike Pence to say that?”

What would lead him to say it, I assume, is Pence’s belief that as Trump’s right-hand man he’s obliged to cheerlead the things Trump wants him to cheerlead. The vice president has no real duties. The least he can do is be the toady-in-chief, a job which Pence has embraced with more gusto than most. Someone like Paul Ryan can afford to be a little (emphasis: a little) more independent from Trump in his public statements because he works for a different branch and serves a slightly different constituency. For House Republicans, a little daylight between them and POTUS is a good thing. For Pence, there’s no daylight. There can’t be. He was on the ticket; if Trump goes down for Russiagate or whatever else, he’ll be irreparably damaged too. And if Trump wins reelection and governs successfully, Pence will be primed to inherit his base in 2024 if he’s a good soldier.

So he’s being the best soldier he can be. Even if that means holding up Joe farking Arpaio as Mr. Rule Of Law while hundreds of thousands of good cops go unrecognized. He’s presented as a model policeman to a national right-wing audience, not them. That’s one of about eight hundred reasons why we are where we are right now.

The most grating thing about the Arpaio shout-out, though, is how gratuitous it is. Granted, Pence was in Arpaio’s home state when he said this but he didn’t *need* to acknowledge him. Being a team player for POTUS should have meant not badmouthing Arpaio; recognizing him by musing how “honored” he felt in his presence was over the top even by normal toadying standards. And ironically, with Arpaio running strong-ish in the Arizona Senate primary, it may end up being self-defeating. Given how disliked he is even in his home state, Arpaio is certainly the least likely of the three Republican candidates (Martha McSally and Kelli Ward are the others) to win a general election. Pence should have refused to recognize him for the simple reason that doing so elevates his stature. It’s not a formal endorsement but warm words from Trump’s VP in a public setting before a primary are a nice little boost for a populist Republican. In a poll published two weeks ago, Arpaio was at 22 percent but within striking distance of McSally at 36 percent. McSally trailed likely Democratic nominee Kyrsten Sinema by six points in a hypothetical match-up. Arpaio trailed Sinema by 26. Smart move, Mike.

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