Mike Pence’s surprise denunciation of Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot strikes me as an act of political desperation that probably won’t help him a bit if he runs for president.
It’s great he did it—declaring at the annual Gridiron dinner in DC that “history will hold him accountable for Jan 6” and “his words endangered me and my family and everyone else at the Capitol.” But it follows years of toadying-up to Trump and staying silent about Jan. 6. And Pence still is trying to evade giving evidence to a federal grand jury about Trump’s efforts to reverse his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden.
I assume that Pence is now trying to somehow break out of his single-digit status among 2024 GOP presidential wannabes and calculates that Trump is now vulnerable both legally and politically.
His remarks—also denouncing Fox News rabble-rouser Tucker Carlson’s portrayal of Jan. 6 as a peaceful protest by “sightseers”—will certainly attract wide notice, but they are flying in the face of polls showing that two-thirds of Republicans don’t hold Trump responsible for Jan 6, that 70 percent of Republicans still view Trump favorably, and he’s increasing his lead for the 2024 nomination.
Trump will trash Pence for his latest treachery (if he hasn’t already) and that’s not likely to improve Pence’s 80 percent disapproval rating among Republicans—which the former vice president mostly earned from his refusal to yield to Trump’s pressure to upend Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College on Jan 6.
Further, Pence’s remarks praising the media at the Gridiron, an annual white-tie mainstream media extravaganza, will not endear him to the GOP base, which for decades has distrusted all but right-wing journalists. Trump infamously declared American media “the enemies of the people.”
If Pence does run—and he’s traveling the primary election circuit like candidates do—he’ll add to the dynamic that currently favors Trump in 2024 as it did in 2016: the bigger the field, the more the anti-Trump vote will be split, making Trump’s 30-40 percent MAGA cultists a plurality.
Pence’s only prayer is that Trump gets indicted for multiple crimes (possible) or commits some new outrage and GOP primary voters decide he’s unelectable in November 2024. One more hope: that Pence’s main rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, turns out to be a political bust. Then his fellow evangelicals, a large part of the GOP base previously beguiled by Trump, might see the light and back their co-religionist and create a movement that delivers Pence.
But badly trailing as he is, Pence is now throwing a Hail Mary. He deserves credit for his way-late conversion to honesty. But, given the dominant Republican mindset, telling the truth is political poison.