President-Elect Donald Trump, with Mike Pence, holds his first press conference since the 2016 election in New York City. (Photo by: Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx 1/1/21)
Mike Pence almost managed to get through four years as vice president without drawing the wrath of President Trump and preserving his 2024 presidential hopes. Almost.Trump falsely declared Tuesday that Pence “has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors,” setting up Pence as the fall guy if he doesn’t go along with Trump’s latest desperate attempt to reject the 2020 election results.
Pence has the unenviable role as vice president of presiding over Congress’s certification of the electors on Wednesday. And Trump is pressuring him to choose between following the law and the U.S. Constitution — or backing Trump’s illegal and likely fruitless maneuver to reject the results in order to please his boss and his base.
Pence has spent four years playing dutiful, obsequious sidekick to Trump. The implicit bargain was that once Trump was out of office, Pence would have a shot at winning over his old boss’s voters in his own bid for the White House. Now, all his efforts may be for naught.“It shows 3.99 years of loyalty will mean nothing if you do the wrong thing here. That’s the lesson of Donald Trump,” GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser told VICE News.Pence has signaled that he isn’t planning to do Trump’s bidding on Wednesday. At Pence’s request, lawyers from the Justice Department opposed a lawsuit led by Trump loyalist and Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert to establish that Pence actually did have the power to reject the results of the 2020 election. The case was legally flimsy and a long shot to begin with, but Pence’s move to oppose it further kneecapped Trump’s latest, and potentially last, desperate attempt to cling to power.That clearly isn’t sitting well with the president, who warned Monday night that Pence better “come through for us” — or else.“He's a great guy. Of course, if he doesn't come through, I won't like him as much,” Trump said half-jokingly during a Monday rally in Georgia.Pence isn’t the only 2024 hopeful grappling with how to handle Trump’s half-baked coup attempt while preserving his own political hide. Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz both plan to use Wednesday’s congressional proceedings to try to toss out the election results from states that Trump lost but insists without evidence were stolen from him. Their seeming hope is by showing they’re fighting for Trump, they can please his base — without, you know, actually causing a constitutional crisis in the process.
But Pence’s role is largely ceremonial — and he has less political wiggle room than the senators. And even if he did what Trump wants, it wouldn’t accomplish anything legally. It’s the role of Congress, not the vice president, to object to or accept states’ electors. And since the states themselves choose who those electors are and every state certified one slate of electors, Congress can’t do anything to change the results unless both chambers agree to reject a state. Pence’s role in Congress on Wednesday, unless he chickens out and doesn’t show up, is simply to preside over the process, and to declare the results of the roll call once Congress is done formally certifying each state’s electors. That means he’ll be the one to declare Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the victors, just as Biden did for Trump and Pence four years ago.That moment may be the effective end of Pence’s 2024 presidential hopes, as Trump turns his wrath and his base against his longtime number two.With just over two weeks until inauguration day, the Trump revolution may be ready to eat one more if its own as its leader heads out the door.