Mike Pence's delusional quest: After all this, he still believes in a GOP that died long ago

Sure, half a cheer for the former veep for resisting the Jan. 6 coup. But after all the groveling, that's it

By Heather Digby Parton


Published October 21, 2022 9:55AM (EDT)

 (Getty/Mark Wallheiser)
(Getty/Mark Wallheiser)

Jonathan V. Last of the Bulwark asked an interesting question in his column this week. He wondered, "[C]ould Mike Pence walk through the crowd at a Kari Lake or Doug Mastriano rally without security? On the other hand, what would happen to Mike Pence if he walked through the crowd at a Josh Shapiro or Mark Kelly rally? Would he need security?"

I think we know the answer, don't we? There is only one crowd that literally tried to hang the former vice president and it isn't the crowd who would gather for any Democrat. Pence is loathed by the MAGA base and if they happen to forget how much they hate him, Donald Trump will be sure to remind them every chance he gets.

That hasn't stopped Pence from spending the last year laying the groundwork for a 2024 presidential run, giving speeches, laying out what he calls his "Freedom Agenda" and sounding like he's working on his best George W. Bush impression and partying like it's 2004. He seems to be under the strange impression that the Republican Party still likes him, and that its voters still believe in the outdated conservative movement of yesteryear. If you didn't know better, you'd think he'd been in a coma for the last six years (which might explain the dazed look on his face visible throughout the Trump administration).

This week Pence gave a speech sponsored by the Heritage Foundation (where he is a "distinguished visiting fellow") in which he caught the media's attention by giving  a coy answer when asked if he'd be willing to vote for Trump in 2024. He said, "Well, there might be somebody else I'd prefer more. I'll keep you posted." I think that's the first time I've ever heard Pence even trying to be funny. Humorless sanctimony is his brand.

It's no secret that he intends to run so that really wasn't the point of his speech. Pence kept referring to "our movement," and while some might initially assume he meant Trump's MAGA movement, that clearly wasn't the idea. It was more like a throwback to Reaganism:

Our movement cannot forsake the foundational commitment that we have to security, to limited government, to liberty and to life. But nor can we allow our movement to be led astray by the siren song of unprincipled populism that's unmoored from our oldest traditions and most cherished values. Let me say: This movement and the party that it animates must remain the movement of a strong national defense, limited government and traditional moral values and life.

His broadside against "unprincipled populism unmoored from our oldest traditions and most cherished values" is clearly aimed at his former boss. Maybe those old tropes will sound like a beloved '80s soundtrack to a lot of Republicans who think that's what they believe in, even if they're clearly following a completely different ideology today. The conservative movement Pence speaks of in such glowing terms is dead — and he was instrumental in burying it.

When you read that passage and the rest of his speech, it's as if Pence has forgotten that he stood stalwartly by Donald Trump's side, gazing adoringly and endorsing every bit of incivility and "unprincipled populism" that gushed from the man's mouth like a geyser of unbridled, self-serving, valueless malevolence. Pence sacrificed all integrity or dignity with his extravagant display of sycophancy. Take, for example, one infamous Cabinet meeting in December of 2017 when he was clocked giving no less that 14 paeans to Trump's greatness. I'll just pick a handful:

I'm deeply humbled, as your vice president, to be able to be here.... Because of your leadership, Mr. President, and because of the strong support of the leadership in the Congress of the United States, you're delivering on that middle-class miracle... Mostly, Mr. President, I'll end where I began and just tell you, I want to thank you, Mr. President. I want to thank you for speaking on behalf of and fighting every day for the forgotten men and women of America.... Because of your determination, because of your leadership, the forgotten men and women of America are forgotten no more. And we are making America great again.

"The Daily Show" did a famous bit sending up Pence's adoring gaze:

There was no more obsequious bootlicker in Donald Trump's administration than Vice President Mike Pence, and that's saying something.

Now, it's fair to say that Jan. 6, 2021 and its aftermath have given Pence something of a reputation boost. He did the job every previous vice president has done, supervising the pro forma ritual of opening the envelopes of state-certified electoral votes, rather than trying to overturn the results and sparking an unprecedented constitutional crisis. Furthermore, Pence showed physical courage in refusing to leave the Capitol when it was overrun by insurrectionists. Democrats and others who still believe in democracy surely appreciate that. But let's not kid ourselves that they're likely to forget the four long years of submissive brown-nosing that came before it.

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After all, Pence didn't just do the right thing instinctively as any true patriot would have done — he didn't just tell Trump "no way" and leave it at that. He had to consult with a bunch of people, including former Vice President Dan Quayle, to figure out whether it would be OK to stage a coup. Luckily, according to Robert Costa and Bob Woodward, Quayle said, "Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away," and Pence finally agreed. That is not exactly the profile in courage he's now portrayed as displaying.

Pence can do church-speak with the best of them. But if right-wing Christians have to choose between him and the Dear Leader who showed them the path to ending democracy, it's no contest.

And even though Pence is an old-fashioned Christian conservative and can communicate in church-speak as well as anyone, it's now been clearly established that the Christian right doesn't really care about that. They love Donald Trump, the crotch-grabbing libertine who couldn't name a Bible verse if his life depended on it. If it came down to a choice between the Dear Leader who offered them a pathway to power and the traitorous Mike Pence, who shattered their dreams of bringing down democracy, there is no doubt who they would choose.

So who, exactly, does Pence think is his constituency? Democrats wouldn't attack him at a rally, and might even give him a pat on the back for his actions Jan. 6, but they certainly aren't voting for him after his years-long display of unctuous groveling. Republicans won't vote for him because he betrayed Trump, and the Never Trumpers aren't likely to forgive him for betraying the GOP. I guess that leaves Liz Cheney and maybe a few members of the Bush and Romney families.

Mike Pence helped turn the GOP into what it is today and now finds himself a man without a party. He gets credit for not capitulating to fascism all the way, but his fate is richly deserved. He should start looking for some of those nice lucrative board seats and retire from public life. He's cooked. 

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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Commentary Donald Trump Elections Jan. 6 Mike Pence Republicans