It look a long time to happen – 26 months and one week, to be precise – but Mike Pence and Donald Trump finally decided to fully engage on this thing between them. You know: Trump questioning his vice president’s manhood on Jan. 6, 2021, while dispatching thousands of demonstrators to the U.S. Capitol to pressure the veep into eschewing his constitutional obligation of certifying Electoral College votes. That thing.
It’s probably true that many of those pro-Trump enthusiasts went further than the 45th president intended – engaging in hand-to-hand combat with U.S. Capitol Police, for one thing, and chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” for another.
It’s also true that hundreds of that day’s rioters are behind bars or still facing federal criminal charges. Trump himself, however, was stumping in the great state of Iowa yesterday, pursuing a bid to regain his old job. Mike Pence is considering a presidential run himself, which suggests an inevitable re-litigation of the Jan. 6 riot. And the two men aren’t exactly hugging it out.
It was an unlikely setting for Mike Pence to draw the line. In a Saturday night speech at Washington’s Gridiron Club, the former vice president left no doubt about whom he sees as culpable for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Also, though he didn’t mention Tucker Carlson by name, Pence dismissed attempts to whitewash what happened that day.
I say unlikely because humor is the normal currency at the Gridiron, most especially humor of the self-deprecating variety. Pence knows this, and for a while he played the role well. In a subtle swipe at candidates who won’t commit to supporting the GOP ticket – he must have had Trump in mind – Pence quipped, “I will wholeheartedly, unreservedly support the Republican nominee for president in 2024. If it’s me.”
Pence also needled both himself and his former boss on the subject of Pence’s famous piety. “There’s this idea that I’m some religious nut,” he deadpanned. “I’m really not. Just ask my sons Jedidiah, Obadiah or Zechariah.”
Early in his speech, Pence used the Good Book to poke fun at Trump’s eye-for-an-eye credo. “I once invited President Trump to Bible study,” Pence said. “He really liked the passages about the smiting and perishing of thine enemies. As he put it, ‘Ya know, Mike, there’s some really good stuff in here.’”
At the end of his speech, however, Pence got serious. “I don’t know whether you noticed, but one thing I haven’t joked about is January 6th,” he said. “January 6th was a tragic day for our nation. It was not, as some would have us believe, a matter of tourists peacefully enjoying our Capitol. Tourists don’t injure 140 police officers by simply sightseeing. Tourists don’t break down doors to get to the speaker of the House. Tourists don’t threaten public officials.”
“The American people have a right to know what took place at the Capitol on January 6th,” he continued. “But make no mistake about it, what happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way.”
“President Trump was wrong,” Pence concluded. “I had no right to overturn the 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.”
Turning the other cheek doesn’t come naturally to Donald Trump. Nor does shouldering the blame. So you knew he’d have an answer to this, and that it wouldn’t be to accept the responsibility Pence laid squarely at his feet.
On his way to Iowa Monday, Trump told reporters that what unfolded that day was not his fault, that the blame rested on Mike Pence, not just for the riots but for Joe Biden becoming president.
“Had he sent the votes back to the legislatures, they wouldn’t have had a problem with Jan. 6 so in many ways you can blame him for Jan. 6,” Trump said, “Had he sent them back to Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, the states, I believe, number one, you would have had a different outcome. But I also believe you wouldn’t have had ‘Jan. 6’ as we call it.”
That’s his story and he’s sticking to it.