Probably not going to be Trump/Pence again in 2024, huh?
I wonder what brought this on. Watch, then read on.
PENCE: "The Presidency belongs to the American people, and the American people alone. Frankly there is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American President."
Fuller remarks from Pence at the Federalist Society. pic.twitter.com/woWILHOEFA
— Zach Purser Brown (@zachjourno) February 4, 2022
The word “un-American” is strong. Totally correct, mind you, but strong. I’d even call it fighting words. Pence decided to throw a punch today, uncharacteristically, and it was a hard one.
No talking point from the post-election period was dumber than the idea that the sitting vice president could refuse to accept electoral votes on January 6. Many talking points were crazier thanks to Sidney Powell, but for sheer stupidity none topped the belief that an official who was part of the losing presidential ticket enjoyed some singular power to refuse to certify his own defeat. Mitt Romney, who’s part of the effort in the Senate to overhaul the Electoral Count Act and prevent another January 6, stated the problem succinctly recently: “For Republicans, the question is: Do you want Kamala Harris feeling she can decide who the next president is?” It’s beyond idiotic.
And yet there are some who would gladly entertain such idiocy for their own selfish reasons:
— Byron York (@ByronYork) February 4, 2022
Trump is right that it seems absurd that the new ECA would need to spell out that the VP has no power to block certification in order to resolve any doubts about the matter. But we live in an absurd era, led by absurd people. Clarifying the veep’s role in an amended statute is the political equivalent of one of those self-evident product warnings that was sadly made necessary by some imbecile using the product in an obviously incorrect way. Trump is the guy who needs to be told explicitly, in bold letters on the casing, that a chainsaw should be held by the handle rather than by the blade.
But anyway. What do we think Pence is up to here?
The chatterati will read it as a signal that he intends to run for president in 2024, and there’s probably truth to that. Pence needs to disentangle his own political “brand” from Trump’s before he can run and, uh, today’s speech certainly did that. But I don’t think he’s motivated primarily by ambition. He knows this argument is a loser with rank-and-file Republicans and that Trump will attack him for it. Typically, if you want to be president, you don’t say stuff that’s sure to antagonize your base.
I prefer the Occam’s Razor explanation: He’s reached the end of his patience with Trump’s endless caterwauling about the election and January 6. Bad enough that a Trump-inspired mob would have come after him that day in the Capitol chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” but Trump clearly feels no remorse about it and continues to insist that he was the ultimate victim. If only Pence had found the “courage” to do the incredibly stupid, illegal, and country-destroying thing Trump wanted him to do, everything would have been fine. Pence is finally fed up.
His inner circle seems to be fed up too. If you’re not following news about the January 6 committee, you’ve missed the fact that Team Pence has been quite cooperative. No arms are being twisted to get them to testify:
Some Pence-world witnesses have testified without a subpoena, according to one source with direct knowledge of the closed-door hearings.
Both Pence’s former chief of staff Marc Short, and former press secretary Alyssa Farah, who later served as White House communications director, are among those cooperating with the committee.
Keith Kellogg also has given a deposition.
One source familiar with their involvement said Short, who was subpoenaed by the committee, would not have cooperated without the approval of Pence.
That was published on January 6 of this year. Since then, more Pence aides have testified. Just this week the committee heard from Short and Greg Jacob, who served as general counsel to Pence during his time in office. Quote:
Short, who was with Pence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and participated in a critical White House meeting on January 4, 2021, is seen as a potentially crucial witness in the committee’s investigation as the panel pieces together the pressure campaign then-President Donald Trump and his allies waged to try to convince Pence not to certify the presidential election.
As Pence’s general counsel, Jacob played a critical role in countering efforts to persuade the former vice president not to certify the electoral results. He was part of the vice president’s team that pushed back against John Eastman, the conservative lawyer who embraced fringe legal theories about the vice president’s ability to overturn the election.
That’s as close to Trump around the time of the insurrection as the committee could reasonably hope to get. And Mike Pence’s team has made it possible.
If you like, you can view that in terms of cynical political self-interest. That is, maybe Team Pence is calculating that the more damning the committee’s findings are, the more politically damaged Trump will be and the more inclined Republican voters will become to search elsewhere for a 2024 nominee. But I find that far-fetched, beginning with the fact that there’s nothing so damning the committee could discover that it would realistically scare GOPers away from Trump. They could have testimony from Short that Trump himself wanted to see Pence hanged for refusing to overturn the election and the average MAGA media response would be, “W-w-well, at least he fights!” More likely, I think, is that Pence is punching back at Trump and his team is cooperating with the committee because they’ve just … had enough. They witnessed firsthand a coup attempt that could have very plausibly led to Pence being murdered and the guy responsible for it not only doesn’t care, he’s conniving to try something again in 2024 if he loses that election too. They’ve reached their limit — finally.
I hope Mike Pence’s testimony before the January 6 committee is televised. Live and in primetime, preferably!