In the violent waning days of the Trump administration, after police in Washington, D.C., cleared out insurgent Trump supporters who poured upon the Capitol at the President’s prompting Wednesday, costing 4 people their lives and delaying the certification of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, the nation finds itself, perhaps for the first time, looking to Vice President Mike Pence…
For Pence alone can invoke the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, along with a majority of the 15 Cabinet Secretaries, at which point they can forward the matter off to Congress. Reads the amendment, “Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.” (emphasis mine)
Naturally, come Congress, numerous Republicans would have to get onboard with the idea, but Pence, being the sole Vice President, is the only swinging hinge that can open this door.
Would he dare? It’s possible. Yesterday, unprecedentedly, Pence changed his Twitter banner photo to one featuring incoming President and Vice President Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. He did so after Trump called him a coward, also on Twitter, for saying he’d affirm the results of the election.
So Pence is pissed. After 4 years of loyalty to his master, he, like so many others, got thrown under the bus. Pence legitimized Trump. Pence dignified Trump. Pence was the professional to Trump’s open amateur. Pence was the master linguist who helped sculpt Trump’s inane, bigoted obscenities into grounded, compassionate points of reason. And this is the thanks he gets?
Understand: I’m not standing up for Pence. Even the most cursory examination of his record on LGBTQ+ rights is enough to sink one’s soul with horror. But I am attempting to see things from Pence’s point of view, and wager a prediction as to which way this might go…
If Pence does nothing, his political career is over. He’ll be the Vice to a ludicrous one-term President — Dan Quayle, only paler and more disquieting. He’ll be remembered as the wingman in an unfortunate and harrowing project that activated white supremacists and culminated in state-sanctioned, homegrown terrorism.
But if Pence stands up for himself, and America, and (not for nothing) his own oath of office, and makes moves to take The Orange Man out of his seat, he will accomplish a multitude of things:
- He’ll assert with eternal force that American laws and institutions rise higher than any notions of partisanship or party loyalty.
- He’ll instantly build and validate a new brand of Republicanism, one anchored in traditional values and the notion of standing up to strongmen, bullies, and terrorists. And, most fascinatingly…
- He’ll become, for a couple of weeks, the 46th President of the United States.
That’s presuming, of course, that other Republican leaders dare to join him.
They might. They likely want to, but are too afraid. All they need is a leader. Pence alone is positioned to be that leader. Can he?
Past behavior’s the best predictor of future behavior. In the past, Pence has been a lapdog, a wingman, a consigliere (even if only in appearance), a supporting actor, but he was rewarded in those roles with power, as well as the rare status of being virtually the only person whom Trump wouldn’t dare to criticize. Now that Trump has (predictably) betrayed him, Pence has no incentive to be who he’s been. So the real question is: Will Pence repeat the past behavior of the cowed wingman who stands loyally in the background, or the past behavior of the power player who goes where the big rewards are?
The power player would certainly shock the world. And Mike Pence is not a man known for being shocking. But if he can get strong and become one, the shock will not only help to heal America, it will actually secure his future place within it.