Sun. Nov 20th, 2022

ANDAfter four years at Donald Trump’s side, Mike Pence has emerged as the Rodney Dangerfield of vice presidents: he gets no respect. So Help Me God, his memoir, is well written and well paced. But a little will help to disturb that impression.

At the Capitol on January 6, his boss was ready to leave him for dead. And yet the Republican ranks yawned. Among potential presidential candidates, Pence is tied with Donald Trump Jr. for third place. The GOP gravitates to frontrunners. Pence, a former six-term congressman and governor of Indiana, is not that.

As governor, he dwarfed his predecessor, Mitch Daniels. He was shadowed on Capitol Hill by the late Richard Lugar, also from Indiana and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and by Dan Coats, another Hoosier senator. On the page, Pence praises all three. Say what you will, he is unfailingly polite.

Coats became Donald Trump’s director of national intelligence and has repeatedly opposed the president. It cost Coats his job. Pence pushed back less.

The former vice president is a committed Christian with sharp elbows and a ringing voice. He struggled with the efforts of faith and ambition. Family is an integral part of his life. He is proud of his son’s service as a US Marine. Born and raised Catholic, the 48th Vice President is now one of America’s most prominent evangelicals. So Help Me God is full of references to prayer. Pence begins with a verse from the Book of Jeremiah and ends with Ecclesiastes: “To everything there is a time, and a season to every activity under heaven.”

Trump chose him as his opponent at the suggestion of Paul Manafort. Unlike Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie, the other possible choices, Pence could “normally”.

Time passes. On November 3, 2020, America delivered its verdict on the Trump presidency. Trump lost. By his own admission, Pence was surprised. He refused to trust the polls and mistakenly mistook the enthusiasm of the base for the entire political landscape. He mistakenly believed he would serve another four years, a few feet from the Oval Office, enjoying weekly lunches with the Man.

Instead, two months later, at great personal risk, he accepted reality and stuck to his conscience and constitution. Like Richard Nixon, Walter Mondale, Dan Quayle (another hapless Hoosier) and Al Gore, Pence presided over the certification of an election he lost.

For Pence and those around him, it was a matter of duty and faith. They refused to undermine democracy. Still, along the way, Pence flashed streaks of political ambivalence — which he continues to do. He refused Trump’s pleas to join the coup, but supported the turbulence. He applauded Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s decision to contest the election results.

“That meant we were going to have a substantive discussion,” Pence writes. He got a lot more than that. His own brother, Greg Pence, a congressman from Indiana, voted against certification — just hours after insurgents wanted to hang his brother on a makeshift gallows. As the mob raged, Greg Pence also hid. After him, first came the brass ring.

Among House Republicans, Trump remains the czar. Right-wing members have extracted a promise that the GOP-controlled House of Representatives will investigate Nancy Pelosi and the Justice Department over the alleged mistreatment of defendants jailed for invading the Capitol. Pence’s anger and hurt are palpable.

“The president’s words were reckless and put my family and everyone in the Capitol building at risk,” he recently said. But in the next breath, he walled off the House committee for Jan. 6. Pence told CBS that he would set up a “terrible precedent” that Congress subpoena the vice president to testify about White House discussions. He also attacked the committee because of its “partisanship”.

Bennie Thompson, the Democratic committee chairman, and Liz Cheney, the Republican vice chairman, hit back strongly.

“Our investigation publicly presented the testimony of more than 50 Republican witnesses,” they said. “This testimony, subject to criminal penalties for lying to Congress, was not ‘partisan.’ It was true.”

It was a far-fetched attempt by Pence to maintain political viability. That train must have left the station.

Pence’s memoir delivers a perhaps surprisingly surgical indictment of Trump. The book catalogs Trump’s flaws, mistakes and sins. From Charlottesville to Russia to Ukraine, Pence has repeatedly singled him out for his shortcomings and mistakes.

He chastises Trump for not condemning the “racists and anti-Semites in Charlottesville” by name, but then rejects the claim that Trump is a bigot.

As for Putin, “there was no reason for Trump not to call out Russia’s bad behavior,” Pence writes. “Admitting Russian interference” would not “cheap”.[ed] our victory” over Hillary Clinton. On Ukraine, the subject of Trump’s first impeachment, Pence called the infamous phone call to Volodymyr Zelensky “less than perfect.”

But even as Putin’s malignancy takes center stage, the Trumps refuse to abandon their man. Don Jr calls for suspension of aid to Ukraine, the dauphin went Charles Lindbergh. He tweets: “Since a Ukrainian missile hit our NATO ally Poland, can we at least stop spending billions to arm them now?”

These days, Pence runs Advancing American Freedom, a conservative tax-exempt way station with an advisory board full of Trump refugees. Kellyanne Conway, Betsy DeVos and Callista Gingrich are there, as are David Friedman and Larry Kudlow. If more than one of them backs Pence in 2024, consider it a minor miracle.

Rodney Dangerfield is gone. But his spirit definitely lives on—in Mike Pence, of all people.