Opinion:  Pence was a potential victim on Jan. 6. That doesn’t make him a hero

Mike Pence greets troops.
Vice President Mike Pence speaks to National Guard troops outside the U.S. Capitol.
(Associated Press)

Was Mike Pence a hero in the siege of the Capitol that has been replayed during Donald Trump’s impeachment trial?

Certainly Pence was a potential victim, as House managers demonstrated by playing dramatic security video of the vice president being hustled away to a safe place. But the managers also emphasized that Pence had refused Trump’s call for him to act illegally and overturn election results favoring Joe Biden.

“Vice President Pence showed us what it means to be an American,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) said on Wednesday. “What it means to show courage. He put his country, his oath, his values and his morals above the will of one man.”


Praise by Democrats for Pence inspired the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal to remark on the “strange new respect on the left” for Pence. The Journal dredged up a 2019 tweet in which Lieu told Pence: “I will pray for you & hope that your hate of LGBTQ employees and students will one day dissipate.”

The Journal suggested that it was hypocritical for Democrats to praise Pence for doing his duty after criticizing him on issues such as gay and transgender rights.

“As soon as the second impeachment trial wraps, he will go back to being another dark figure in a political ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ told to inspire fear and loathing among Democratic voters,” the editorial said. “But for everyone else, Mr. Pence’s defense of the rule of law and the Electoral College should stand as a refutation of that caricature.”

A few points:

  • For trial-strategy reasons, House Democrats probably did lay it on too thick in praising Pence.
  • It’s possible to regard Pence’s views as retrograde and commend him for doing his constitutional duty.
  • When he issued a statement early on Jan. 6 indicating that he lacked the unilateral authority to determine which electoral votes should be counted, Pence was stating the obvious. It was a “Profiles in Courage” moment only by the low standards of the Trump administration.
  • In that statement, Pence felt obliged to provide a sop to Trump and his supporters. The letter includes this gratuitous sentence: “After an election with significant allegations of voting irregularities and numerous instances of officials setting aside state election law, I share the concerns of millions of Americans about the integrity of this election. ... As presiding officer, I will do my duty to ensure that these concerns receive a fair hearing.” (A Pence aide had attributed such concerns to Pence earlier, but the timing of this statement was atrocious.)
  • Between the election and Jan. 6, Pence offered moral support for Trump’s campaign to discredit the election results, which culminated in Trump’s inflammatory speech on Jan. 6. On Dec. 10 Pence, campaigning for Republican Senate candidates in a Georgia runoff election, endorsed a preposterous lawsuit filed by the attorney general of Texas asking the Supreme Court to overturn election results in four states. “God bless Texas!” he said. (The Supreme Court rejected that suit the next day.)

The Democrats are right to portray Pence as a potential victim on Jan. 6. The insurrectionists’ chants of “Hang Mike Pence!” were chilling. But the fact that Pence did his duty doesn’t make him a hero.