US Vice-President Mike Pence is fond of describing himself as a “Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order”. He now has the chance to prove it, at least the part which gives primacy to political philosophy over party alignment.
This week, he will be required to respect the institutions and processes that ousted his presidential ticket from the White house and declare Joe Biden to have won the election.
That, of course, is not what outgoing President Donald Trump wants.
“Hopefully our great vice-president will come through for us. He’s a great guy. Of course, if he doesn’t come through I won’t like him quite so much,” he declared at his rally in Georgia yesterday in a speech equal parts rambling and threatening ahead of the state’s runoff Senate election.
Pence and Trump: the original odd couple
We’re far from the first to point out the irony that Trump, the incurably vulgar, gleefully avaricious and amoral alleged sex offender — a walking affront to Christian decency — has been so embraced by the Christian right (and particularly evangelicals) of which Pence is such a proud member.
In some ways, it mirrors Trump’s own inexplicably successful grift into the White House as something of a last ditch hail-Mary pass to solve his many financial and legal troubles; the evangelicals figured they could renew their dwindling political influence by hitching their wagon to Trump.
As a fabulous profile from The Atlantic put it:
In Pence, Trump has found an obedient deputy whose willingness to suffer indignity and humiliation at the pleasure of the president appears boundless.
The litany of debasements — always equivocal, always deniable, as Pence is far more careful with his language than Trump — could fill the whole edition today, but here’s a few.
Having declared that Trump’s call for a ban on “Muslim immigration” in December 2015 was “offensive and unconstitutional”, Pence had a rethink after he was announced as Trump’s running mate in July 2016.
By then he was “very supportive of Donald Trump’s call to temporarily suspend immigration from countries where terrorist influence and impact represents a threat to the United States”.
After the Access Hollywood tape featuring Trump’s jocular brags of sexual assault surfaced, Pence said he was “beside himself“. Within three days he was asserting that being Trump’s running mate was the “greatest honour of my life“.
After Trump affirmed that the neo-Nazi side of the deadly violence in Charlottesville had “many fine people” on it, Pence praised the unity Trump had apparently brought about and said Trump had been very clear in condemning white supremacists (he had not).
And during the controversy over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, Pence, at Trump’s request, attended a Colts game entirely so he could walk out following the protest.
So what will he do?
In light of the above, it will not surprise you to hear Pence appears to be having a bet each way. He has never come out and explicitly backed Trump’s false claims about electoral fraud, of course. But he did “welcome” efforts from dissenting GOP senators to object to the results — or at least his chief of staff did, saying Pence shared what he called “the concerns of millions of Americans about voter fraud and irregularities”.
Regardless of the pressure being brought upon him, Pence couldn’t do much to stop the transition of power even if he wanted to. The role of Pence (as presiding officer in the Senate) in affirming the result is merely ceremonial; he tallies and announces the state electoral results.
Last week, a federal judge tossed out a lawsuit brought by congressional Republicans which attempted to expand that role to have the power to reject electoral votes, a move clearly aimed at pressuring Pence into rejecting the electoral college results.
In the light of that failure, the law which specifically limits the vice-president’s role — drafted precisely because a vice president has previously attempted to intervene in the count — will stand.