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April 13, 2024
He still pulls punches and minces words when talking about the GOP front-runner Donald Trump.

Mike Pence is not ruling out testifying against former President Donald Trump. But could the jury crack the code he uses when talking about his onetime boss?

Exactly how the former vice president really feels about Trump’s past actions and his fitness to again be commander-in-chief requires a legal decoder ring and a political magnifying glass. Trouble is, neither accurately measures courage or fortitude.

Despite headlines declaring Pence as having broken with the thrice-indicted Trump, the former vice president still pulls punches and minces words when talking about the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Parsing Pence the candidate is a murky task, and one jurists in a coming federal criminal trial about Trump’s actions after the 2020 election and before the Jan. 6 insurrection must undertake when considering Trump’s guilt or innocence. Next year, voters will have to do the same — especially independent and some moderate Republicans in the six or eight swing states that will decide the 2024 presidential election.

Pence’s most recent public comments about Trump’s most recent federal indictment — in a Washington, D.C., district court with four charges stemming from his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and role in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot — offer a prime example of his habit of rhetorically dancing and dodging about Trump.

“Former Vice President Pence is in the unenviable position of having pissed off everyone,” GOP strategist Brian Seitchik said in a Wednesday email. “He’s too complicit for Trump haters, he’s a traitor to the MAGA crowd, and this playing of the middle does nothing other than dig his heels further into no man’s land.”

Pence has indeed grown more critical of the former president as the pages of federal and state indictments, and the charges included within them, have piled as high as boxes of classified military and intelligence papers in a Mar-a-Lago bathroom.

“Look, President Trump was wrong. He was wrong then. He’s wrong now. I had no right to overturn the election. And, more and more, Americans are coming up to me every day and recognizing that,” Pence told Major Garrett on “Face the Nation” on CBS on Aug. 6. “I’m running for president in part because, frankly, President Trump asked me to put him over the Constitution that day, but I chose the Constitution — and I always will.”

Republican strategist Rick Tyler this week took umbrage with Pence’s rationale. “If Pence really were ‘too honest,’ he would be doing everything in his power to keep Trump from securing the Republican nomination,” Tyler wrote in a Tuesday email. “Running for the nomination himself doesn’t count.”

One of Trump’s onetime political advisers turned 2024 GOP primary foe, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, has managed to find such fortitude. “If Donald Trump had a risk of breaking a fingernail, he’s such a coward that he wouldn’t go up to Capitol Hill [on Jan. 6, 2021],” he told CNN this week. “So he went back to the safety of the White House and sent those folks up there to do what they did, which was to create, many of them, violent conduct up on Capitol Hill to try to stop what was going on, in terms of confirming the election.”

One can only wonder if Pence does worry about Trump back in the Oval Office. He still seems mostly concerned with winning his party’s nomination and achieving what a senior aide told your correspondent early in the Trump term was Pence’s lifelong professional goal: becoming president of the United States.

Only that he polls around 5% nationally, nearly 50 percentage points among GOP voters behind Trump, and has been called a “traitor” at his own campaign events.

If his true goal is blocking Trump, Pence will need to — finally — say the words.

John T. Bennett writes a weekly column for Roll Call. ©2023 CQ-Roll Call. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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