Grading on a curve, we should all be pining for a Mike Pence presidency. At minimum he seems to be a blessedly boring guy who’d never threaten a nuke strike of “fire and fury.”
This is the miserable state to which we’ve been reduced — hoping against hope to be speedily saved from Trumpian insanity by a former right-wing, homophobic, God-guided governor who, barely a year ago, was at serious risk of losing his Indiana re-election race. But hey, I guess he’s the best we can do right now. Yesterday’s F grade is today’s A.
And make no mistake, he’s plotting his promotion just in case Trump implodes, quits, or gets fatally Muellered. Pence was all fire and fury on Monday, assailing a well-sourced story that details his creation of a political action committee to fund his travels and donor dinners (no previous veep in year one had ever done such a thing). Pence said it was “fake news” — mouthing the Trump mantra, pledging fealty to his overlord — in a protest so transparent that it merely reaffirmed what we know to be true.
But before we get too … what, excited? … about the possibility that Pence could ascend before 2020, and before we divine the reasons why he’d be an upgrade over the ignoramous (Pence at least has executive and legislative experience, Pence wouldn’t tweet toxicity at six in the morning, etc.), we do need to remember the 18th-century dictum that appeared in Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac:
“He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.”
Pence has been Trump’s faithful bobblehead, nodding at every verbal idiocy. He has hailed Trump’s “broad-shouldered leadership” (which we have yet to see), he has mopped up messes for Trump, and he has lied for Trump (purposely or unwittingly). All told, says veteran GOP strategist Steve Schmidt, “Pence is inexorably tainted by Trumpism. His credibility and integrity are in tatters along with that of most of every other person who’s spoken for this administration.”
If he were to become president in the foreseeable future, we’d surely be spared the hysteria and chaos of the current dysfunctional regime. But Trump’s fleas would not be easily fumigated. Certain credibility issues would still need to be resolved. Certain mysteries would still need to be solved.
Think back to early May, when Trump suddenly fired FBI director (and Russian probe leader) James Comey. Why did Pence falsely insist — on four separate occasions — that Trump axed Comey only because Justice Department leaders supposedly urged him to do the deed?
On May 10, for instance, Pence served up this Orwellian howler: “Let me be very clear that the president’s decision to accept the recommendation of the deputy attorney general and the attorney general to remove [Comey] was based solely on his commitment to the best interests of the American people and to ensuring that the FBI has the trust and confidence of the people of this nation.” But on May 11, Trump made Pence look like a fool, telling NBC News that he’d fired Comey to reduce heat from the Russia probe; in Trump’s words, “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.”
So was Pence a hapless patsy — or did he lie on purpose, knowing the inside story?
The same question arises with respect to Pence’s false statements about Michael Flynn, the Russia-paid propagandist and history’s shortest-serving national security adviser. As you may recall, there were reports last winter that Flynn, prior to Trump’s inaugural, had discussed President Obama’s Russia sanctions (the expelling of diplomats) with a top Russian official — talks that would have been arguably illegal, because Flynn was not a White House official.
Flynn told Pence that he’d done no such thing, and on Jan. 15, Pence told CBS News: “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia …. What I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.”
That turned out to be a lie. Either Pence knew Flynn’s denial was BS, or he was suckered into repeating it. This is what happens when you tie yourself to Trump.
Worse yet was the news that Flynn, pre-Inauguration, had lobbied for the Turkish government without having first registered as a foreign agent. In March, when Fox News quizzed Pence about Flynn’s Turkey work — lest we forget, Pence had helmed Trump’s transition team — he insisted that this was the “first I’d heard of” it. But Pence Sgt. Schultz’s act (Hogan’s Heroes: “I know nothing!”) was inexplicable, because Flynn’s potential conflict-of-interest ties to Turkey had been in the news for weeks — and the House Oversight Committee had warned Pence about those very ties, in a letter last November.
But hey, why quibble? Pence would at least hose down the hysteria, and dampen the melodrama that’s exhausting us. Before he became a congressman, he was a talk-radio host who described himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.” Grading on a curve, that’s what passes for great.
On the other hand, playing dumb for Trump is a pretty lousy cred. Which brings us to something else Ben Franklin said: “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”