But now, eight months later, Pence is indignant about how much coverage media is giving the people who came for him at the Capitol and suggested that the goal of the coverage is to tarnish the reputations of the millions of people supporting Trump. As for the former President, adds Pence, “We parted amicably.” In fact, he says they have spoken at least a dozen times since their administration ended with Biden’s swearing-in on January 20.
Pence is behaving like the middle school kid intimidated by a bully’s lunch money protection racket. Fearful of fighting back, he instead brings a little extra money for the gang every day and says the head bully is really his good buddy.
Pence offered his sunny view of Trump and his supporters in an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News and on the “Ruthless” podcast. It was broadcast after Trump, who seems certain to seek a return to the Oval Office in 2024, was beginning to talk tough about potential primary opponents. In an interview with Yahoo News, he warned Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis about challenging him for the 2024 nomination. “If I faced him, I’d beat him like I would beat everyone else,” said Trump.
“Everyone else” seems to include Pence, who, as he travels from one primary state to another, shows every sign of making a serious bid for the presidency himself. He has a new political organization, aided by a panel of big-name advisers, and he recently convened a retreat for donors in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. According to Axios, he is aiming to raise $18 million by year’s end. Add the work Pence is doing to help follow Republicans across the country and he’s obviously trying to make his long-held dreams of the presidency come true.
The main problem for Pence is Trump’s hold on the base of the Republican party, which generally believes the former President’s Big Lie about the last election being stolen from him. Most GOPers recently asked by CNN told pollsters that faith in the Big Lie is key to party identity. When Pence rebuffed Trump’s demand that he use his ceremonial role to alter the counting of the electoral votes on January 6, Pence put himself at odds with this view. His statements to Hannity suggest he’s trying to win back favor by bridging the gap between himself and the Trump loyalists, using a tool Trump has deployed for years: bashing the media.
“I know the media wants to distract from the Biden administration’s failed agenda by focusing on one day in January,” said Pence. “They want to use that one day to try and demean the character and intentions of 74 million Americans who believed we could be strong again and prosperous again and supported our administration in 2016 and 2020.”
By shifting the conversation away from the fact that on January 6, Trump supporters brought makeshift gallows to the Capitol and voiced their rage at him specifically, Pence is seeking a bit of opportunity indicated in the latest CNN poll. In answering the survey, Republicans chose Trump as party leader by a 63-37 split but their support for him as a future president was less enthusiastic. Only 51% said they thought the party would have a better chance to win the White House in 2024 with Trump.
With the poll indicating a party that loves Trump, but not so much as a presidential nominee, Pence and others, including DeSantis, do have an opening. The trick will lie in being Trump-y enough to reassure the ex-President’s base — but not so devoted that one looks like a carbon copy.
Pence has a long and often cringeworthy record of devotion. As conservative columnist George Will noted in 2018, his stomach-turning sycophancy made him “America’s most repulsive political figure.” But toadyism is what saved Pence from political oblivion when he was a middling governor of a state, Indiana, that rarely sees the national spotlight.
A conservative Christian who is conspicuous about mixing politics and religion, Pence nevertheless found ways to support the profane, twice-divorced Trump. Like the frightened middle schooler who appeases a bully, he found safety in knuckling under as the world watched. As he returns to this strategy, we might judge Pence’s chances by putting ourselves back in a middle school frame of mind. As I recall, I felt sorry for the kid who groveled, but I never respected him.