“January 6 was a dark day in the history of our US Capitol,” Pence said. “That same day we reconvened the Congress and did our duty. You know, President Trump and I have spoken several times since we left office and I don’t know if we’ll ever see eye to eye on that day.”
Pence is, of course, right. The violent insurrection at the US Capitol, which left more than 100 police officers injured and five people dead, were a cataclysm the likes of which American democracy has rarely seen.
And Pence, as vice president on that day, had no role other than a ceremonial one — to oversee the formal certification of the electoral vote count that showed Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election.
None of those facts will protect him from the anger of Donald Trump and the base the former President commands, however.
Trump has, over the past few weeks, descended further and further into the madness of conspiracy theories that suggest he will be reinstated as president sometime soon as recounts and audits of portions of the vote in Arizona and Georgia.
He’s also, according to The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, “trash[ing] Pence to various people, and to RNC donors, for not exceeding his legal authority that day, growing louder after Pence’s book deal was announced.” (Pence signed a multi-million dollar, two-book deal in April.)
What Trump has done is make acknowledging the truth of what happened on January 6 — and his role in it — a sort of loyalty test for ambitious Republicans. Tell the truth about that day and run the risk of becoming the next Liz Cheney, run out of her Republican leadership job. Lie about that day — or try to downplay the actual danger the riot posed to lawmakers — and keep your job a la Kevin McCarthy.
Pence appears to be putting himself, purposely, in the former category. Which is a very interesting gambit given that there is, to date, zero evidence that Republicans who break with Trump on January 6 have any sort of political future within the Party.
After all, the Republican base — or at least a majority of it — are convinced that Trump’s lies about the election are true. Consider these numbers from a recent Reuters/Ipsos national poll:
* Fully 53% of Republicans in the poll said that Donald Trump was the “true” president, while 47% said Joe Biden, who is the actual president.
* Another 56% of Republicans say that the results of the 2020 election were “the result of illegal voting or election rigging.”
* More than 6 in 10 GOPers either “strongly” (39%) or “somewhat” (22%) agreed with the statement that the 2020 election “was stolen from Donald Trump.”
Base voters tend to have an outsized say in choosing the presidential nominee. And base Republican voters — at least to date — believe that Trump had the election stolen from him. And Trump, with the willing complicity of lots of Republican leaders in Congress, is trying to rewrite what happened on January 6.
Pence isn’t reading off that script. Which, in its way, is admirable. But unless the Republican Party’s views on Trump change radically between now and 2024 (always possible!), Pence’s position on January 6 might well disqualify him from serious consideration by Republican primary voters.
What a world.