During a CNN town hall on Wednesday night, Mike Pence was asked to reckon with his time serving as Donald Trump’s vice president.
Here’s what he said: “Let me just say that it was a great honor for me to be a part of the Trump-Pence administration. … But in the end, our administration did not end well.”
Which is an interesting take!
What Pence is trying to do here is earn credit among Republicans for all of the time leading up to the January 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol, but then sort of yada-yada away what happened that day and the days following it.
Which is impossible.
The events of January 6 color everything that came before them in the Trump administration. The countless lies, the weaponizing of grievance, the attempted use of government organs to settle personal vendettas – all of it led up to that fateful day. Trump’s actions (and Pence’s inaction) created a toxic mixture that was unleashed.
What Pence is trying to do here is to carve out a spot for himself in the 2024 presidential race. He wants to run on the record of the Trump administration – tax cuts, Supreme Court justices, etc. – but distance himself from the president. He wants to offer Trumpism without Trump. The four years of what Trump did, minus what happened after the 2020 election.
Pence isn’t the only one positioning himself that way. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has won praise among Republicans for offering many of the views of Trumpism – particularly a resistance to so-called “woke” culture – without the unpredictability of Trump. Mike Pompeo, who served as secretary of state during the Trump administration, seems to be positioning himself for a potential run on the muscular foreign policy trumpeted by, um, Trump, but without the tweets and the conspiracy theories.
The problem for Pence in this strategic distancing is that he was, quite literally, at Trump’s side for the entirety of his term. Pence was often standing admiringly in the background while the then-president was signing a bill or giving a speech. Remember that in one Cabinet meeting in 2017, Pence praised Trump every 12 seconds for three minutes straight. That’s hard to do!
In short: This is an “Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” moment. Pence can’t simply get credit for the good – in the eyes of Republicans – and be blameless for the bad. Yes, it’s true that Pence resisted Trump’s repeated pressure to ignore the electoral vote results. But it is also true that Pence stood silent as Trump repeatedly undermined norms that had governed the office of president for centuries.
You don’t get to claim the positives of Trump without also owning the negatives. It’s all part of the package – unfortunately for Pence.