Mike Pence Lays Down the Marker for 2024
Sometimes, wisdom comes from the strangest people in the strangest places. It happened again this week – when Mike Pence, of all people, speaking at the annual Gridiron Dinner, of all places, set the bar for the defining issue of 2024.
I did not attend this year’s dinner, but I’ve been to three previous dinners, most recently in 2018, the only Gridiron dinner attended by President Donald Trump. Going to the Gridiron is like stepping into a time machine. It’s Washington’s only white-tie event. It’s invitation-only. It’s been around since 1885, and I swear some of its founding members are still there. You walk around looking at most guests, politicians or journalists, thinking “Oh, I thought he/she was dead!”
By tradition, club members, all journalists, perform musical skits mocking the politicians they cover. Then one member of the administration, one leading Republican, and one leading Democrat take turns doing their best at stand-up comedy, poking fun at themselves and the opposition party.
The whole point is, for one night in the year, to just have a few laughs and not make any news. Except for this year. When Mike Pence broke the mold.
Pence started out in true Gridiron tradition, joking that he’d heard that “some of the classified documents they found at Mar-a-Lago were actually stuck in the president’s Bible. Which proves he had absolutely no idea they were there.” He also pledged to “wholeheartedly, unreservedly support the Republican nominee for President in 2024 ... if it’s me!”
But then Pence stunned his audience by segueing into a powerful jeremiad on Jan. 6, laying the blame squarely on his former boss. “History will hold Donald Trump accountable for Jan. 6,” Pence said, then making it personal: “President Trump was wrong. His reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day.”
In a direct slap at Fox News, the former VP declared: “Make no mistake about it. What happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it in any other way.” Repudiating host Tucker Carlson’s assertion that rioters on Jan. 6 were actually nothing but “orderly and meek” sightseers, Pence snarled: “Tourists don’t injure 140 police officers by simply sightseeing. Tourists don’t break down doors to get to the speaker of the House. Tourists don’t threaten public officials.”
True, Pence waited a long time to say it. But so what? What’s important is that Mike Pence did say it. And, in so doing, Pence, wittingly or unwittingly, set the bar for what will be the signature issue of the 2024 campaign. It won’t be crime, the economy, abortion, education, foreign policy or climate change. The first test any candidate for any office in 2024 will face is simply this: Do you condemn the attack on the United States Capitol on Jan. 6 and those responsible for it? Yes or no?
Given the overwhelming evidence on Jan. 6 – we watched it on television! – it’s amazing we’re even having this debate. But House Republicans, led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, won’t let it go. It was McCarthy who released the entire 41,000 hours of videotape of Jan. 6 exclusively to Fox News host Tucker Carlson, knowing he’d cherry-pick clips of the tapes to make his case that Jan. 6 was no big deal. And it’s McCarthy who’s responsible for sending a congressional delegation led by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to D.C. jails – to make sure that those already convicted and serving time for assaulting the Capitol are being treated properly. McCarthy is speaker. Without his OK, that visit would never take place.
Mike Pence will never be president, and I’d never vote for him. But, no matter what I think of his politics, I give Pence credit for having the guts to tell the truth. He barged in where no other real or potential 2024 GOP contender has yet dared to go, unequivocally condemning what happened on Jan. 6 and placing the blame right where it belongs: on Donald Trump personally.
This should be an easy test. For all Americans. Simply to admit that Jan. 6 was a direct attack on our government and that, starting with Donald Trump, those who inspired, planned or carried it out must be held accountable. It should be a no-brainer. Yet it’s stunning how many Republicans still fail what must be the first test for anybody running in 2024.
Here are four words I never thought I’d hear from my own lips: “Thank you, Mike Pence.”
(Bill Press is host of The BillPressPod, and author of 10 books, including: “From the Left: My Life in the Crossfire.” His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers may also follow him on Twitter @billpresspod.)
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