Mike Pence's contemptible convention speech: A fable of failure, culture war and corruption

Is this the guy who's supposed to bring the Republican Party back to reality after Trump? Because he's a joke

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published August 27, 2020 8:00AM (EDT)

 Vice President Mike Pence speaks on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Charlotte Convention Center on August 24, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The four-day event is themed "Honoring the Great American Story." (Chris Carlson-Pool/Getty Images)
Vice President Mike Pence speaks on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Charlotte Convention Center on August 24, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The four-day event is themed "Honoring the Great American Story." (Chris Carlson-Pool/Getty Images)

Vice President Mike Pence's appearance as the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday was an ill-timed booking that mostly served to highlight his role in the Trump administration's failed response to COVID-19, its continued culture wars and its blatant corruption. 

Exactly six months to the day since Trump claimed, in reference to the spreading novel coronavirus, "When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero — that's a pretty good job we've done," the U.S. officially registered 180,000 deaths from COVID-19. And exactly four years to the day since former San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the national anthem in protest of police violence, several NBA, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer teams led an unprecedented wildcat strike in protest of continued police killings of unarmed Black people. Joe Biden was quick to make a strong statement of support for the atheletes.

But speaking Wednesday from Fort McHenry outside Baltimore, reputed location for the writing of "The Star-Spangled Banner," Trump's dutiful vice president opened his address not by noting the solemn state we find ourselves in as a nation, but by continuing to rail against cancel culture, socialism, "left wing mobs" and Americans who failed to adequately "back the blue." Pence praised law enforcement, including a misleading reference to Dave Patrick Underwood, an officer with the Department of Homeland Security's federal protective service who was shot and killed in May by a far-right extremist.

"He was shot and killed during the riots in Oakland, California," Pence shamelessly claimed.

Even as Pence was ranting about protesters — those in Kenosha, Wisconsin remained peaceful without police interference. Of course, Pence didn't even bother to mention the police shooting of Jacob Blake that ignited this latest round of civil unrest, or the outside agitator, another apparent right-wing milita member, who shot and killed two protesters the night before. 

Using a National Park Service location for his blatantly political speech, Pence followed his boss' RNC strategy of forcing public employees to appear in potential violation of the Hatch Act, which forbids federal employees other than the president or vice president from engaging in political activity at their workplace. Like the faithful soldier, Pence used his speech to rewrite recent history as an epic success.

"We are protecting the vulnerable and we are saving lives," Pence said, claiming that the federal government has now "coordinated the delivery of billions of pieces of personal protective equipment." But the forced sell fell as flat as the veep's delivery. 


"Last week, Joe Biden said 'no miracle is coming,'" Pence said Wednesday night. "What Joe doesn't seem to understand is that America is a nation of miracles and we're on track to have the world's first safe, effective coronavirus vaccine by the end of this year." Most experts believe a vaccine won't be ready until 2021 at the earliest.

Pence, who was plucked off the campaign trail in February to head the White House coronavirus task force, quietly quit overseeing day-to-day operations in Washington to return to the campaign trail after being sidelined by Trump earlier this summer. While still in charge, Pence implored people not to listen to warnings about COVID-19 just before it exploded all over the South. He trotted around Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to brag about how well the Sunshine State was doing, right before it degraded into a COVID deathscape. And he infamously visited the Mayo Clinic and wore no mask inside the hospital, where staff were caring for patients infected with the coronavirus. 

Pointing to a new Politico report about Pence's role leading the White House coronavirus task force, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday that Pence had "pulled his punch" in confronting the virus and became "a figure in the background." 

"There's nothing for him to be proud of in terms of his role in fighting this virus," Pelosi said. "In fact there's evidence to support the fact that he was very slow on the draw, pulled his punch when he should have been leading with it. And he's part of the indictment on the coronavirus. They were slow in anticipation and ... reacting to what was happening out there in terms of the spread of the virus." 

Hours before Pence's RNC speech, multiple news outlets confirmed that the CDC had abruptly changed its guidelines to limit coronavirus testing, a top priority of Trump's since the outset of this outbreak. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who serves on the White House coronavirus task force, told CNN that the changes had been rushed through while he was in surgery last week under anesthesia. Of course, Pence's track record during an HIV/AIDS outbreak while he was governor of Indiana ought to have been enough to make anyone interested in public health alarmed.

Recall that Pence has covered for Trump's corruption at nearly every turn during the last four years. 

He was present in the Oval Office just before Trump asked former FBI director James Comey to drop the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Asked what he knew as the head of Trump's transition team, Pence claimed that he had just learned of Flynn's ties to Turkey in March 2017. When Flynn was initially fired, however, his cited offense was having lied to Pence during the transition. Pence also admitted to helping Trump pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden in exchange for the release of U.S. military aid. 

Pence has even helped drive taxpayer dollars to Trump's private business ventures. 

During a foreign trip to meet with Irish leaders, Pence stayed at a hotel owned by Trump almost 180 miles away. at his boss's urging. Trump International Golf Links in Doonbeg, on the west coast of Ireland, was nearly a four-hour drive from Pence's scheduled meetings in Dublin. According to an analysis by the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), Pence's stay cost taxpayers nearly $600,000 in limousine service alone.

If Pence was supposed to be the post-Trump savior of the Republican Party, then Wednesday's performance reveals that prospect as a complete farce. This nightmare won't end in November. The contemptuous dismissal of the Hatch Act on display this week at the RNC is just one more test run for Team Trump's evident plan to dismiss or overturn the results of the election. The professional athletes who walked out last night in pursuit of justice have the right idea and we all should follow suit. This week's RNC performance makes clear that the entirety of the Republican Party is rotten. Americans can't wait until the election has already been undermined. They need to be in the streets now.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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