Hurt feelings, anger linger after Pence, Trump finally clash

Trump Pence - AP
Pence and Trump

They were never a natural fit, the straight-laced evangelical and the brash reality TV star. But for more than four years, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence made their marriage of political convenience work.

Now, in the last days of their administration, each is feeling betrayed by the other. It’s part of the fallout from an extraordinary 24-hour stretch in which Pence openly defied Trump, Trump unleashed his fury on the vice president, and a mob of violent supporters incensed by Trump’s rhetoric stormed the Capitol building and tried to halt the peaceful transfer of power.

The Trump-Pence relationship is “pretty raw right now,” said one top GOP congressional aide, who described multiple phone calls in which Trump berated Pence and tried to pressure the vice president to use powers he does not possess to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Pence, for his part, was left feeling “hurt” and “upset” by the episode, according to people close to him. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.

Pence’s decision to publicly defy Trump was a first for the notoriously deferential vice president and former Indiana governor, who has been unflinchingly loyal to Trump since joining the GOP ticket in 2016. Pence has spent his tenure defending the president’s actions, trying to soothe anxious world leaders put off by Trump’s caustic rhetoric, and carefully avoiding the president’s ire.

He has taken on some of the administration’s most high-pressure projects, including leading its response to the coronavirus. And he has stood by Trump even as the president leveled allegations of voter fraud and refused to concede the election after his loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

Under normal circumstances, the vote-tallying procedure that began on Wednesday would have been a mere formality. But after losing court case after court case, and with no further options at hand, Trump and his allies zeroed in on the congressional tally as their last chance to try to challenge the race’s outcome.

In a bizarre interpretation of the law, they argued that the vice president had the unilateral power to reject Electoral College votes supporting Biden. The Constitution makes clear that only Congress has that power.

The effort effectively turned Pence into a scapegoat who could be blamed for Trump’s loss if the vice president refused to go along with the plan. Trump and his lawyers spent days engaged in an aggressive pressure campaign to force Pence to bend to their will in a series of phone calls and in-person meetings, including one that stretched for hours on Tuesday.

When Pence, who consulted with his own legal team, constitutional scholars and the Senate parliamentarian, informed Trump on Wednesday morning that he would not be going along with the effort, the president “blew a gasket,” in the words of one person briefed on the conversation.

Not long after, Trump took the stage in front of thousands of his supporters at a “Stop the Steal” rally, where he urged them to march to the Capitol and continued to fan false hopes that Pence could change the outcome.

“If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election,” Trump wrongly insisted. He repeatedly returned to Pence throughout his speech as he tried to pressure the vice president to fall in line.

But Trump already knew what Pence intended. And as Trump spoke, Pence released a letter to Congress laying out his conclusion that a vice president cannot claim “unilateral authority” to reject states’ electoral votes. He soon gaveled into order the joint session of Congress where his and Trump’s defeat would be cemented.

Not long after that, members of Trump’s rally crowd arrived at the Capitol, where they overwhelmed police, smashed windows, occupied the building and halted the electoral proceedings. Pence was whisked from the Senate chamber to a secure location, where he was held for hours with staff as well as his wife and daughter, who had been there to support him.

Trump did not call to check in on his vice president’s safety during the ordeal and instead spent much of Wednesday consumed with anger over Pence’s action, tweeting, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”

Later, members of the mob outside the Capitol were captured on video chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!”

For allies of Pence, it was a deeply upsetting episode that put the vice president in danger after four years of unstinting loyalty to the president and left Pence himself feeling hurt.

“I just think he’s had enough,” said John Thompson, who served as Pence’s campaign spokesman and and also worked for the Republican Governors’ Association.

“Yesterday just really pulled on his heartstrings,” Thompson said. “He’s been this loyal individual and the president was asking him to break the law and act outside his constitutional duties. I think it just reached a boiling point and the vice president said, ‘I’ve had enough.’”

Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma told Tulsa World, “I’ve never seen Pence as angry as he was today.”

“He said, ‘After all the things I’ve done for (Trump),’” Inhofe added.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an informal Trump adviser, also came to Pence’s defense, tweeting that his action was “a profile in courage.”

It remains unclear how the dynamic between Trump and Pence will play out over the next two weeks and how long the president will hold his grudge. The White House declined to discuss Trump’s thinking, but allies said Pence intends to spend the next two weeks focused on the transition.

He is also expected to attend Biden’s inauguration.

And while Pence had been banking on his close relationship with the president to propel him to top-tier status if he decides to run for president in 2024, allies said they didn’t think the vice president’s actions this week would have long-term consequences, even if some voters blame him for Trump’s defeat.

“I thought that was a very courageous moment for him,” Thompson said. “And I think that’s going to help his future.”

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13 thoughts on “Hurt feelings, anger linger after Pence, Trump finally clash

  1. hey Mike – “if you lie down with the devil you will wake up in hell”. Thought you would have known that, but you spent the last four years demonstrating you didn’t…….

    1. I might’ve voted for him back in 2014, but certainly not after RFRA and now the last four years.

    2. Pence bailed on the governorship in part because he was looking so weak in 2016.

      As it turns out he could have ridden the red wave to a second term, but that’s the choice he chose to make.

      He’d easily win another term as governor here but he didn’t exactly prove to be a good governor. He’d be better than Curtis Hill for sure, but I am intentionally damning with faint praise.

    3. Bingo. “He’d easily win another term as governor”. I agree…he was not a particularly good governor and I would rather not see him win the job, but it is probably his only shot for an elected office now.

  2. I don’t agree with his views, but I respect him for doing the right thing in a very difficult situation. He demonstrated courage at a time when others chose to put their careers ahead of their country. He has just shot up several notches in my esteem.

  3. He did the right thing and I admire that he stood firm in the face of Trump losing it. I just can’t imagine he’d want to run for Governor and I don’t think he has a political future after this association. I think Republicans will want to put this administration including Pence in their rearview mirror. It’s really sad that all the good that was done over the past four years has been squandered away in the blink of an eye. I had hopes for the midterms, but this could take many years to overcome. Time will tell.

  4. Courage? He did the simply job We The People elected him to do. Their is no courage in that.

    Before the Trump supporters overran The Capitol and threatened him, he was right there supporting those who sought to overturn a free and fair election.

    “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”

    1. I wish you could correct your comments. A few days ago I meant to write condemn, but left the n off and spell check changed it to condom.

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