I’ll confess to some exasperation when, during the 2016 campaign, Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence described himself as an “evangelical Catholic.” Three years earlier, I had published a book on the Catholic future entitled Evangelical Catholicism, and what Mr. Pence meant by being an “evangelical Catholic”—a cradle Catholic who had really come to know the Lord Jesus through evangelical Protestantism—was not what I meant by the term. Nor did I vote for Mr. Pence in either 2016 or 2020, having written in my choices for president and vice president in both elections. And while two years is a virtual eternity in these highly unstable political times, I don’t expect to vote for Mr. Pence in the 2024 Republican primaries, should he choose to run.
This Thanksgiving, however, I’m happy to give thanks for Mike Pence, whose new book, So Help Me God (Simon & Schuster), explains how this man of Christian faith and conscience stood between the United States and an unprecedented constitutional crisis on January 6, 2021.
Between Election Day 2020 and early January 2021, President Donald Trump and his supporters filed more than forty legal challenges to the rectitude of the vote count in several states Trump had lost. Vice President Pence supported that effort, believing that the public deserved an honest account of what had transpired in the election. None of the legal challenges succeeded.
Undeterred, constitutionally ignorant members of Congress began to claim that, as vice president and the Senate’s presiding officer when the Electoral College votes were counted, Mr. Pence could nullify certain states’ reports of their electoral votes by unilaterally rejecting those reports. The former Indiana governor now drew a bright line, telling President Trump that the Constitution did not give him that authority—which it manifestly did not.
The president’s response: “You’re too honest. Hundreds of thousands are gonna hate your guts. . . . People are gonna think you’re stupid.”
On January 5, Vice President Pence was called to the White House and asked by the president’s lawyers to simply reject certain states’ electors, and thus their electoral votes. Pence later learned that one of the president’s attorneys, John Eastman, had told Pence’s own general counsel that unilaterally rejecting electors was wrong and that doing so would be immediately overturned by a unanimous Supreme Court—which is to say that one of the president’s principal legal advisers didn’t believe what he was telling Trump. That same day, in another lie, Trump denounced as “fake news” a newspaper story accurately reporting that Pence did not believe he had the constitutional authority to block certification of the 2020 election.
Mike Pence’s actions on the day of infamy that saw an unhinged, vicious mob storm and ransack the U.S. Capitol were correct, courageous, informed by conscience, and fortified by prayer. When his Secret Service detail urged the vice president to leave the Capitol after rioters had broken through the ranks of the ill-prepared and overwhelmed Capitol police, he refused, although it was clear that some of the rioters were out for him. When he agreed to go to a safer location, the garage beneath the building, Pence insisted on walking, not running, much to the aggravation of his detail. When the head of the detail asked Pence to take cover in a car that had been pre-positioned near an exit ramp, the vice president refused, concerned that someone would order the car’s driver to hustle Pence away from what he regarded as his post—and his duty. Meanwhile, as the Capitol was being pillaged and maniacs were chanting “Hang Mike Pence!,” the president was tweeting away, calling Pence a coward—although fourteen minutes later, the volatile Mr. Trump switched gears, urging the mob to “Stay peaceful!” Rather too late, that.
The process of certifying the electoral vote count eventually continued and was concluded in the wee hours of January 7. There had been death and destruction, and a mob of crazies had made the world’s greatest democracy look like a banana republic. But the constitutional order had been preserved. And Mike Pence deserves the thanks of every genuine patriot for playing an indispensable role in doing so.
Meeting President Trump the day after his second impeachment, Vice President Pence told the president that they would have to continue to disagree about Pence’s actions on January 6, but that he would still pray for Trump. Whatever the efficacy of Mr. Pence’s prayers in the ensuing two years, his intention was that of a statesman and a Christian. At Thanksgiving 2022, I would like to thank him for being both.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.
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Image by Gage Skidmore licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.