Mike Pence finally speaks up — too late! Trump's takeover of GOP is virtually complete

Pence's performance may reassure the media — but RNC pronounces Jan. 6 riot "legitimate political discourse"

By Heather Digby Parton


Published February 7, 2022 9:43AM (EST)

Liz Cheney, Donald Trump and Adam Kinzinger (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Liz Cheney, Donald Trump and Adam Kinzinger (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Last Friday, appearing before the Federalist Society in Florida, former Vice President Mike Pence said the words that dare not be uttered in the Republican Party: "President Trump was wrong." He was referring to Trump's recent assertion that Pence had the right to "overturn" the election. While Trump's original statement and Pence's mild rebuke both sent shock waves through the media, they really shouldn't have. Of course Trump thinks Pence had the right to overturn the election. He couldn't have been any clearer in the 5,789 times he's mentioned it.

No one should be surprised that Pence came out and said Trump was wrong, either. He has stayed pretty quiet about the whole thing, but the fact that Pence didn't actually try to throw out electoral votes, under tremendous pressure, proved long ago that he thought it was impossible and unjustified. He just didn't have the guts to come out and say it directly until now, which is typical.

I doubt Pence's comments would have caused the stir they did if it weren't for the fact that earlier in the day the Republican National Committee had voted to censure Reps. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., at the RNC's winter meeting in Utah. The committee statement said, among other things, that the party would "immediately cease any and all support of them as members of the Republican Party for their behavior which has been destructive to the institution of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican Party and our republic, and is inconsistent with the position of the Conference," and described Cheney and Kinzinger's roles on the House Jan. 6 committee as helping the "Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse."

RELATED: At last the Republican Party comes clean: It stands for terrorism and Trump, against democracy

Once it was pointed out that the Republican Party's governing body appeared to be saying were saying that the Capitol rioters were "engaged in legitimate political discourse" the statement was rapidly amended to read "legitimate political discourse that had nothing to do with violence at the Capitol." RNC leaders claimed they meant to refer to people like those fraudulent "electors" from various states, whom they characterized as being just regular folks. (One of them has close ties to RNC chair Ronna McDaniel.) According to the New York Times, however, the language of the resolution had been carefully negotiated over several days, and was voted on first by the executive committee and later by the full conference. So unless the Republican leadership has reading comprehension problems (which they might!) if they hadn't mean to embrace the insurrectionists surely someone would have raised an objection before the whole thing went public.

According to reports from the conference, there was quite a bit of back-and-forth among members, some of whom thought it wasn't a good look for the party to cater to Trump's revenge fantasies. But the true believers won out, led by one of Trump's top henchmen, David Bossie. I have written about Bossie before. He's a notorious right-wing operative, going all the way back to the 1990s when he made his bones as an anti-Clinton character assassin working with the notorious Floyd Brown, who was famous for producing the racist "Willie Horton" ad in the 1988 presidential campaign. Brown's group was called Citizens United, which Bossie later took over, and which brought the infamous lawsuit to the Supreme Court that opened up unlimited big money in politics. (The suit was over Bossie's film "Hillary: The Movie," one of his patented hit jobs.)

Bossie quickly became a media go-to source for dirt on the Clintons and his career was off and running. He soon became a congressional Whitewater "investigator" (and was later fired by Newt Gingrich for doctoring tapes and releasing them to the public.) He produced films with Steve Bannon long before Bannon was a household name or had hooked up with Trump, and wrote several crude smear jobs on Democratic politicians.

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Naturally enough, Bossie jumped on the Trump train back in 2016 and soon teamed up with Trump's first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. The two of them made quite a pair. At one point during Trump's term he even discussed bringing them into the White House as a "crisis team," although no one was quite sure whether they'd be tasked with creating crises or fixing them. The dynamic duo wrote a book together called "Let Trump Be Trump," a memoir of the glory days of the 2016 campaign.

In 2019, Bossie was exiled from TrumpWorld over accusations that his misleadingly-named fundraising outfit, the Presidential Coalition, had bilked Republican donors out of millions of dollars that was supposed to go to support conservative candidates and somehow never got there. Trump does not like it when someone uses his name to run a grift without giving him a taste, and was reportedly "apoplectic." But Bossie has been slowly but surely worming his back into the fold ever since. Trump assigned him to challenge ballot-counting in swing states after the 2020 election and Bossie recently took on the important task of destroying the presidential debates for 2024, so Trump can skip them if he wants to. (Debates don't tend to work to his advantage.)

As the Washington Post's Philip Bump has pointed out, this appears to be yet another piece of the plan Trump is setting in motion for 2024. Aside from all the legal shenanigans going on with election officials in battleground states, Trump will almost certainly try to clear the primary field, as he did in 2020, when he strong-armed states into canceling their Republican primaries altogether. But Bossie's latest task, shepherding the censure of Cheney and Kinzinger, has to have him fully back in Trump's good graces. Nothing is more important to the ex-president than that and Bossie handled it smoothly, including the inflammatory language that McDaniel was forced to amend, but no doubt had delighted Trump, who is now fully supportive of the Jan. 6  insurrectionists. He probably wasn't too happy with McDaniel's forced "clarification."

Considering Bossie's very special set of skills, it's not unrealistic to suspect he may be setting up McDaniel for a fall. According to Vanity Fair, he wants the RNC chair for himself. That would be the zenith of his career as a right wing operative and would signal the final and total takeover of the party by Donald Trump (as if that hasn't happened already). When you think about it, in Trump's Republican Party, David Bossie is the only man for the job. 

Read more on Trump, the Republican Party and the insurrection:

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Adam Kinzinger Commentary David Bossie Donald Trump Liz Cheney Mike Pence Republicans