Tuesday, March 28, 2023|
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With the 2024 presidential election a mere 590 or so days in the distance, few so-called news stories could interest me less on the upslope of 2023 than candidate kabuki at the start of a 19-month pregame show.
My general policy for the 2024 race is: Wake me when it’s 2024, but former Vice President Mike Pence woke me over the weekend with his remarks at Washington’s annual Gridiron Dinner, a dubious forum for bipartisan humor among Beltway insiders and their journalistic acquaintances.
Pence is delusional, which, of course, is the thing that makes him most plausible as a Republican presidential nominee. He somehow believes there’s a yearning for his candidacy on a landscape where the left despises him, the hard right was last seen trying to hang him, and there’s little but his low-wattage conservatism to interest anyone in between.
But on Saturday night, Pence dramatically augmented his thumbnail resume. He’s not only delusional; he’s disgusting.
Part of Pence’s shtick was a tasteless attack on Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, on the LGBT+ community, on postpartum women and, far less significantly, on comedy.
He opened by complaining that despite America’s travel problems last year, Buttigieg took “maternity leave,” after he and his husband adopted twins. “Pete is the only person in human history to have a child, and everybody else gets postpartum depression,” Pence added.
Right, try the veal.
Among those not laughing, Chasten Buttigieg, Pete’s husband, who asked on Twitter: “An honest question for you @MikePence, after your attempted joke this weekend. If your grandchild was born prematurely and placed on a ventilator at two months old — their tiny fingers wrapped around yours as the monitors beep in the background — where would you be?”
Similar reactions flooded the internet, with VoteVets tweeting: “Mike Pence mocked a gay Veteran. We dare Pence to make the same ‘joke’ to the face of a uniformed member of the Armed Forces who has a child with their same-sex spouse. However, it comes as no surprise that Trump’s VP would smear those who serve. That’s pretty on-brand.”
The White House on Monday called for an apology, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noting that Pence’s “homophobic joke about Secretary Buttigieg was offensive and inappropriate, all the more so because he treated women suffering from postpartum depression as a punchline.”
At the root of all this is that Pence is painfully desperate to stay relevant despite ridiculously early polling that places him about a mile behind Ron DeSantis and two miles behind Trump. He was so desperate Saturday night he even tried the truth.
“President Trump was wrong,” Pence said. “I had no right to overturn the (2020) election. And his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day. And I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”
History might, but it will get no help from Pence, as he still refuses to testify about Jan. 6 to the Department of Justice. Instead, he files bogus immunity claims to avoid telling the truth outside the Gridiron Comedy Club.
“The American people have a right to know what took place at the Capitol on January 6th,” Pence told dinner guests he’d apparently thought had been immunized against irony. “But make no mistake about it, what happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it any other way.”
You won’t hear much of that on the campaign trail, I don’t imagine. Pence knows it’s a losing argument to the MAGAmaniacs and he’ll soon understand he’s a loser as well, because nobody nowhere is buying this notion that he’s a hero for not overturning an election. Cornered by Trump, who called him a wimp and the p-word on Jan. 6, Pence did the only thing that was legal — he certified the electoral votes. He decided not to break the law. Hundreds of millions of Americans make the same decision every day. They’re not heroes for it.
Further, Pence was perfectly willing to watch a multi-front coup attempt inflate on every side of him for months without making a sound, the same way he spent every hour of Trump’s decency-mocking presidency as its primary lickspittle. If ultimately he didn’t go all in with the insurrectionists, it wasn’t because he didn’t want to.
In late December, 2020, Pence phoned the only other former vice president from Indiana, Dan Quayle, who’d himself certified the election of Bill Clinton on Jan. 6, 1993, because, you know, it was the law. “Mike, you have no flexibility on this — none, zero, forget it; put it away,” Quayle told Pence on the pages of Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s “Peril,” (2021).
“I know, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell Trump,” Pence said. “But he really thinks he can. And there are other guys in there saying I’ve got this power.”
Pence pressed further, according to the authors.
He wanted to know if there was even a “glimmer of light, legally and constitutionally, to perhaps put a pause on the certification if there were ongoing court cases and legal challenges.”
“You don’t, just stop it. Forget it,” Quayle said.
Would that Pence’s question had been, “Do I have a chance in 2024?” because Quayle’s advice in that moment fits this moment perfectly.
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