Former Vice President Mike Pence did something at the Gridiron Club’s Annual Dinner that observers have been waiting years for him to do: Pence criticized Donald Trump.
Pence’s critique of his former boss stole the show.
“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. His reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day.”
Basically, Carlson suggested the January 6th riot was a peaceful protest and that the rioters were “meek” “sightseers.”
Pence did not agree with Carlson’s portrayal of January 6th. “Tourists don’t injure 140 police officers by simply sightseeing,” Mike Pence said. “Tourists don’t break down doors to get to the Speaker of the House. Tourists don’t threaten public officials.”
Pence’s comments are significant in two respects. First, as a rebuke of Trump. Second, as a right-wing critique of January 6th.
Mike Pence Rebukes Trump
Pence spent most of his term as Trump’s vice president serving as something of a yes-man.
Publicly, Pence could always be relied upon to support Trump, or deflect criticism away from Trump, or amplify Trump’s voice.
Mike Pence was a reliable little foot soldier, joining Trump on his failed 2020 re-election bid. So obviously, having Pence openly criticize Trump represents an abrupt pivot.
But Pence’s criticism of Trump is significant in another respect — it represents the first time a GOP rival has so explicitly and so forcefully criticized Trump.
Pence’s direct attack on Trump bucks the trend, in what is surely a politically calculated move. Pence, who is trailing significantly behind Trump and Ron DeSantis in early GOP primary polls, needs to both degrade Trump and elevate himself.
Criticizing Trump is a gamble, but Pence is in a position where he’ll need to take some risks — and criticizing Trump potentially serves to both degrade Trump and elevate Pence.
Pence Frames January 6
Pence’s assessment of what happened on January 6th is amongst the most damning judgments to emerge from the right. Mostly, in the 24 months since the January 6th riots, both sides have fought to frame the incident in a politically beneficial way.
On the left, observers have described the riots as a coup attempt, a moment of existential peril for American democracy — a description that is over-the-top dramatic. On the right, observers have attempted to downplay the significance of January 6th – Carlson is the most extreme example, describing the rioters as sightseers, but that’s been the trend.
Pence’s description runs counter to the overarching GOP narrative. Pence describes January 6th as significant, which it was, while stopping short of describing the event as a coup attempt, which it wasn’t.
Will Pence’s venture into left-like criticism inspire others to join him? Maybe.
We can be certain that the left will seize on Pence’s comments. And we’ll know soon whether anyone else on the right follows suit, criticizing Trump and January 6th. If nothing else, the media, myself included, are writing about Mike Pence this morning, whereas last week, we were not.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.