August 3, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Mike Pence can choose to go down a hero rather than a loser

He can’t win, so why not testify against Donald Trump?

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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In Wednesday’s edition, I talked about Mike Pence and the fact that his chances of winning the 2024 election are the slimmest of chances, not only because he’s got to get around Donald Trump to win the Republican Party nomination, but also because former vice presidents and sitting vice presidents, even when they win their party primaries, usually go on to lose.

I wrote that piece before the Justice Department unsealed a third criminal indictment against Trump, this one in connection to his attempted paramilitary takeover of the US government. The Post reported that, among other things, the indictment’s 45 pages reference “Mike Pence or the office of the vice presidency more than 100 times, reflecting Pence’s role as a central figure in the charging document.” 

In other words, the investigation of the J6 insurrection centers the former vice president, but the former vice president’s campaign for president does not center the J6 insurrection (or its investigation).

You’d think a man running on “traditional, Reaganesque principles,” per the Post, would find ways to make hay out of his role in saving the republic. Anyway, if you’re going down, why not go down a hero?

Pence’s problem says more about the GOP than it says about him. His campaign is “a test for whether there is any appetite left in the Republican primary electorate for the traditional, Reaganesque principles that influenced Pence’s career.” The party is failing.

Recall that Trump’s coup attempt had two fronts. On the inside, the plan was for Mike Pence, in his role as president of the Senate, to reject electoral votes from key states won by Joe Biden. On the outside, the plan was a violent assault to pressure Pence into following through with the coup. He rejected having any part in treason, though.

The indictment “details a Jan. 4, 2021, meeting, where Trump allegedly repeated his false claims of widespread election fraud,” the Post said. “Pence questioned Trump lawyer John Eastman’s proposal to send the election results back to the states, asking if it was ‘defensible.’ After Eastman … suggested that “nobody’s tested it before,” Pence allegedly told Trump, ‘Even your own counsel is not saying I have that authority.’”

He rejected the proposal, not only in the above meeting, but repeatedly. And for that, Pence was valorized by the Democrats who later impeached Trump. “On that day [J6], he lived up to his oath of office,” said Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin, who led the impeachment trial. “He was a constitutional patriot. They were chanting – I heard them chanting – ‘hang Mike Pence, hang Mike Pence.’ They meant it.” 

“Constitutional patriot” is a great slogan for a “constitutional conservative.” Indeed, Pence’s campaign launch began by making J6 “a key theme in his speech, emphasizing that Trump’s actions were ‘reckless’ and that ‘anyone who asks someone else to put them over the Constitution should never be president of the United States again.’”

But a month later, “Pence doesn’t typically mention Jan. 6 in his town halls or stump speeches unless he’s asked about it, instead focusing on the Biden administration,” the Post reported. The more Trump lies about J6, the worse things get for Pence. His former chief of staff, Marc Short, told the Post recently that “Mike had very high favorables until the president [Trump] started misrepresenting the events of Jan. 6.”


Pence’s problem says more about the GOP than him. I like how the Post‘s Marianne LeVine put it: Pence’s campaign is “a test for whether there is any appetite left in the Republican primary electorate for the traditional, Reaganesque principles that influenced Pence’s career.”

The party is failing.

Pence might otherwise be positioned to take advantage of his well-earned reputation as a “constitutional patriot.” But much of the party now sees his loyalty to the Constitution as disloyalty to Trump. It’s no such thing, of course, but that’s not going to help Pence in the end. 

That end is predictable. As a pollster put it, he’s “caught between a rock and a hard place. He’s too Trumpy for the non-Trumpies and not Trumpy enough for the Trumpies.” But even if, by some miracle, he gets around Trump, former vice presidents and sitting vice presidents usually go on to lose. The exceptions in the last 100 years have been Richard Nixon in 1968, George HW Bush in 1988 and Joe Biden in 2020.

Why not go down a hero? Pence has not said whether he will testify against Trump, but can you think of a better way of burnishing a reputation as a “constitutional patriot” than by standing tall in open court against the leader of the worst of all constitutional crimes?

Anyway, what does he have to lose, other than the slimmest of chances of winning in 2024? To paraphrase the former vice president’s hero, Ronald Reagan, Mike Pence didn’t leave the Republican Party.

The Republican Party left Mike Pence. 


John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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