Speaking in Iowa on Wednesday, former Vice President Mike Pence came out swinging against Donald Trump, arguing that he was fundamentally unfit for office. “I believe that anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States and anyone who asks someone else to put them over the Constitution should never be president of the United States again,” Pence said. Up until that point, Pence had largely stayed mum about the man who sat idly by as his supporters tried to lynch him on January 6, 2021. Now, with his presidential campaign in full swing, Pence was ready to unload.
“Trump’s words were reckless and endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol,” Pence continued. “President Trump also demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution. Now voters will be faced with the same choice. I chose the Constitution, and I always will.” Here was an actual proactive argument for a Pence presidency: Donald Trump is lawless, Mike Pence is not.
Then, later the same day, the same Mike Pence said the exact opposite. Appearing at a CNN town hall, Pence was asked by moderator Dana Bash what he thought about reports that the Department of Justice had informed Trump that he was the target of an active investigation relating to his retention of classified information. Here’s what Pence said:
Now more than ever, we ought to be finding ways we could actually come together. And this kind of action by the Department of Justice would only fuel further division in the country. And let me also say, I think it would also send a terrible message to the wider world. I mean, we’re the emblem of democracy, we’re the symbol of justice in the world, and the serious matter—which has already happened once in New York—of indicting a former president of the United States sends a terrible message to the world. I hope the DOJ thinks better of it and resolves these issues without an indictment.
Pushed by Bash to square his overtures to the “rule of law” with his belief that Trump should not be indicted for breaking the law, Pence squirmed. “I would just hope there would be a way for them to move forward without the dramatic and drastic and divisive step of indicting a former president of the United States,” Pence said. “We’ve got to find a way to move our country forward and restore confidence in equal treatment under the law in this country. We really do.”
“Sir, I just want to clarify what you’re saying is if they believe he committed a crime, they should not go forward with an indictment? You just talked before about committing to the rule of law.” pic.twitter.com/8tk5XBZOxe
— Acyn (@Acyn) June 8, 2023
This is Pence’s candidacy in a nutshell. His general existence as a presidential candidate is pointless enough: He is loathed by a large portion of the Republican voting population for his refusal to aid Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn a lawful election; a throwback to an earlier era of puritanical GOP culture politics, he is also a charismaless void who has accomplished little other than being so ineffective as governor of Indiana that he was one of the few people in the country who had nothing to lose when Trump came looking for a running mate in 2016. Now he is on a mission to salvage his tarnished brand. He can’t even do that right.
Look no further than his answer to the “rule of law” question. One simple way to “restore confidence in equal treatment under the law” would be to … treat people equally under the law. If Donald Trump committed a crime by refusing to hand over classified information he had unlawfully taken with him to his private residence, than he should be prosecuted for that crime. And yet Mike Pence has decided the opposite is true: Trump should get away scot-free because, well, he’s Donald Trump and some people would be mad.
Pence’s entire candidacy is built around these bits of pretzel logic. Most importantly, he likes to tout the achievements of the Trump administration, which is understandable given the flimsiness of his resume. And yet, this becomes quite the problem when you happen to be running against your former boss, who can claim a larger share of that credit. If you want to tout the economy while you were vice president, well, that usually also means touting the president who oversaw that economy. Vice presidents don’t have much to do, moreover, so there’s also something silly about the entire exercise: Pence is trying to claim credit for things he didn’t have much to do with (Trump, to be fair, didn’t either) but in the process is really just pumping up the man who’s running well ahead of him in the polls.
There’s a similar problem when it comes to many of Pence’s criticisms of his former boss. Speaking about Trump’s recent praise of North Korean despot Kim Jong-Un, Pence had this to say on Fox News: “Whether it’s my former running mate or anyone else, no one should be praising the dictator in North Korea—or praising the leader of Russia, who has launched an unprovoked war of aggression in Ukraine,” Pence said. “This is a time when we ought to make it clear to the world that we stand for freedom and we stand with those who stand for freedom.” That all makes sense! Except that when Pence served as Donald Trump’s vice president, Trump praised Kim and Putin repeatedly and at great length. If Pence found his boss’s conduct so reprehensible, why didn’t he do anything about it? He hasn’t said.
Mike Pence is not going to be president. Mike Pence may very well be the only person in America who thinks he could be president. There are plenty of reasons for this. But the biggest may just be that he’s very bad at running for president.