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Opinion

Column: Dear Vice President Pence: What are you thinking?

President Donald Trump stands with Vice President Mike Pence during the 36th annual National Peace O
President Donald Trump stands with Vice President Mike Pence during the 36th annual National Peace Officers Memorial Service on May 15 in Washington.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Dear Vice President Pence,

I hope you don’t mind me writing to you like this, but as one of those conservatives who was somewhat reassured by Donald Trump’s decision to put you on the ticket, I feel compelled to ask: What’s the endgame here?

Retired Gen. Michael Flynn, the president’s first national security advisor, was reportedly fired for misleading you about his conversations with the Russians. But last week, you were apparently misled about the president’s reasons for firing the FBI director.

In four different instances you said James Comey was terminated on the recommendation of the deputy attorney general, who criticized how Comey handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation during last year’s election campaign. Then the president told NBC’s Lester Holt that the recommendation had nothing to do with it. It was all about the Russia investigation.

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Maybe you weren’t misled. Maybe you were part of the deception. But I’d like to think that’s not the case.

Either way, is this really what you had in mind when you took the job?

The Comey fiasco doesn’t help the president, and your apparent willingness to abet his misbehavior doesn’t help you.

I wouldn’t dare appeal to you as a man of devout Christian faith, that’s not my job. (It’s also particularly awkward for a guy named Goldberg.) Nor do I see much point in blathering on about patriotism. I know you’re a patriot with an abiding love for your country.

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So let’s talk about your ambition.

Ambition is not necessarily a dirty word. The founders thought that ambition more than almost anything else would preserve our system of checks and balances.

I have to assume you accepted your position at least partly for the same reason most of your predecessors did: to get you closer to the top job.

But there’s a reason only two vice presidents (Martin Van Buren and George H.W. Bush) have been elected straight to the Oval Office since the passage of the 12th Amendment in 1804: The electorate tends to get antsy. Voters want to stay the course if they have great confidence in the administration.

It’s early yet, but may I ask: How’s that going? I’m not privy to what’s happening behind the scenes, but from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t look like it’s going too well.

The Comey fiasco doesn’t help the president, and your apparent willingness to abet his misbehavior doesn’t help you.

I understand that the vice presidency is an awkward position under the best of circumstances. It’s a bit like the Newark Airport of constitutional offices, mostly famous for the bad things people say about it. John Nance Garner, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first vice president, said it wasn’t “worth a warm bucket of,” well, historians debate which bodily byproduct he mentioned. Harry Truman, FDR’s third vice president, said the office was “about as useful as a cow’s fifth teat.”

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If that was once true, it isn’t any longer. As you like to say, Trump threw away the old playbook. You have a role to play beyond acting like a campaign flunky, praising the president at every turn as a man of action displaying his “broad-shouldered leadership.”

There’s room to do more on your own shoulders.

Much of the president’s power is derived from what Teddy Roosevelt called the “bully pulpit,” or what legendary political scientist Richard Neustadt called the “power to persuade.” In today’s media landscape, you have an especially potent bully pulpit, because you’re the one person the president cannot fire.

Let’s assume Trump played you for a patsy. I don’t think you should resign, but threatening to do so if he does it again might — just might — help the president get his act together, which would be good for you, the party and the country. You are also the tie-breaker in the Senate, which means something given the GOP’s precariously thin majority.

The president claims to value loyalty, but we know he respects strength. For your sake and the country, maybe it’s time to show some.

jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

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