Credit Mike Pence for speaking the truth about Trump

By Scot Leigh, Boston Globe, March 20, 2024.

The prospect of being hanged concentrates the mind wonderfully, Samuel Johnson once observed. If the great English wordsmith and wag had chosen “belatedly’’ as the operative adverb, why, he would have anticipated Mike Pence’s recent declaration that he won’t endorse Donald Trump for president in 2024.

Loyal to the edge of self-abasement as Trump’s vice president, Pence has finally come to see his former boss with clear eyes. That’s in no small part because of Jan. 6, 2021, a day when his own life was endangered by the MAGA mob that stormed the Capitol chanting “Hang Mike Pence’’ after Trump denounced him by tweet for failing to execute his illicit scheme to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election.

In yet another absurd perversion of the truth, Trump now describes those marauders as “unbelievable patriots’’ and labels those convicted and imprisoned for their part in the melee “hostages.’’

Trump’s MAGA base, sadly, is willing to adopt his lies as their truth. Not Pence, however. As he noted on Sunday, the storming of the Capitol included “assaults on police officers’’ and should not be diminished. “The people that ransacked the Capitol need to be held to the fullest account of the law,’’ he said on CBS. So credit Pence for resisting Trump’s unrelenting effort to rewrite history.

Pence was also critical of Trump during his own his ill-fated presidential campaign, noting that on Jan. 6, “the president asked me to put him over the Constitution’’ and declaring that “anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be president of the United States.’’ However, he then muddied matters by raising his hand during the Aug. 23, 2023, Republican debate to signal that he would back Trump as the GOP nominee even if the former president suffered a criminal conviction.

But during a Friday appearance on Fox News and a Sunday interview on “Face the Nation,’’ Pence ruled out any public backing of Trump. As to his reasons, he again cited Trump’s attempt to overturn the election results but said his problems with Trump went further. Although he didn’t use the GOP pejorative RINO — Republican In Name Only — he made it clear that as a Reagan conservative, he thought Trump had abandoned traditional GOP principles.

“I won’t endorse Donald Trump this year because I see him departing from the mainstream conservative agenda that has defined the Republican Party over the last 40 years,’’ he said. To that end, he highlighted his former boss’s lackings and laxity on “a commitment to fiscal responsibility, a commitment to the sanctity of life, a commitment to American leadership in the world.’’

At a time when so many Republicans have contorted themselves into political pretzels to rationalize their continued support for Trump, that’s praiseworthy. And in that light, it’s also worth lauding some other Republicans who have told the truth about Trump.

One is former secretary of defense Jim Mattis, who has scorchingly denounced Trump as someone who repeatedly tried to divide the American people. Mark Esper, Mattis’s successor at the Pentagon, has made it clear he considers the former president a threat to democracy.

Former national security adviser John Bolton has declared that Trump is unfit to be president and that voting for him puts the Constitution at risk.

Ex-chief of staff John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, has said that Trump “has nothing but contempt for our democratic institutions, our Constitution, and the rule of law.’’

Alyssa Farah Griffin, a former White House director of strategic communications, has said a second Trump term would spell “the end of democracy as we know it.’’

Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer under Trump, has warned that Trump cares about nothing except himself and that his “divisive lies’’ and “unrestrained contempt for the rule of law’’ have already eroded our democracy.

Those are extraordinary things for members of a former president’s team to say about him. Together, their comments constitute a remarkable characterological indictment.

We’ll no doubt hear from, or about, them during the height of the general election campaign. And probably from others as well; one former Trump administration official told The Washington Post that other former Trump officials may also speak up if Trump looks to be in a position to win come fall.

“I don’t think it works until it’s September or October,’’ this person said.

MAGA won’t be deterred, of course. What they mistakenly consider patriotism is actually pro-Trump authoritarianism.

But those who truly care about the US Constitution and about our democracy should pay close attention. After all, as Heraclitus said, character is destiny — and sometimes not just for an individual but for a nation as well.

Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GlobeScotLehigh.

 Image Credits: public domain