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Mr. Vice President: Was the price of Trump really worth it?

01 / 10 / 2021

“Buckle up.” 

If you’re like me, once in a while you’ll read a quote in a news article and it’ll just stand out. Beyond it catching your attention in the moment, it just sticks with you. You know it when you see it. 

On July 16, 2016, Donald Trump presented Mike Pence as his vice presidential nominee. Maggie Haberman, the NYT White House correspondent, wrote this of Pence in her final two graphs: 

“Afterward, he beckoned to a close friend in the crowd and embraced him tightly over the metal barricades.

‘Buckle up,’ Mr. Pence said with a smile.” 

It’s been nearly five years, and I still remember the minute I read it. 

Pence, a man who has worshipped Ronald Reagan since the early 1990s and has dreamed of being president for about as long, was on his way in ’16 to losing his bid for reelection as governor of Indiana. But Donald Trump needed a nominee with experience, a clean nose and unimpeachable conservative bona fides. Thus, the unlikeliest political marriage of all time was consummated. Trump saved Pence’s political future — and at the same time placed him a heartbeat away from the presidency. 

Politically, it made perfect sense. Yet when I read “buckle up” — I immediately thought to myself: Does Pence really know what that means? 

Mike Pence had been a hardball politician ever since the time he was in the Republican leadership in Congress. This man was the furthest thing from naive. But I still thought to myself: He has no idea what he’s getting himself into — no matter what his ambitions. 

You can probably see where I’m going here. Five years later, norms and traditions that Pence once purported to respect have been totally shattered. The US Capitol has been attacked and people have died. The world watches as Nancy Pelosi seemingly has Pence’s neck in a vice. The mob that’s responsible for five deaths were also screaming “Hang Mike Pence!” So much damage has been done. And after never once objecting to Trump’s madness until the very last minute where he was forced to follow the Constitution and certify election results — the President predictably cast him aside like a garage sale clearance item. 

Was it all worth it for Pence? To dirty himself up this much just to keep his presidential ambitions alive? And if his dream is dead — would he still think that his decision to be Trump’s loyal vice president was the right one? It’s more than likely.
Oftentimes, progressives don’t view conservatives’ political motivations as equally pure to their own. In fact, people on both sides of the aisle are guilty of this; ascribing their ideological opponents’ bad behavior to the ruthless quest for power just for the sake of it. When you disagree with a set of ideas so passionately that you literally cannot understand why people would actually believe in the diametrical opposite, the default assumption is that they just want to be in power. Period.

The truth is that a hell of a lot of politicians go into their profession — at least originally — because they want to lead on issues that they believe in. Regardless of party. 

Under Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell, 234 federal judges have been nominated and confirmed. This is devastating for progressives. If you’re a true conservative, which Mike Pence certainly believes he is, maybe those judges are worth it. We’re talking about lifetime appointments for people who have the power to invalidate laws — no matter which temporary Congress passed them. 

In any event, I’d bet you more than a dollar that at the end of each day when Pence is alone in the dark trying to rationalize why he’s supported a man whom he knows to be the most lawless, amoral, dishonest and dangerous president the United States has ever had — those judges are the first thing he goes to. 

Even still, I wonder. I wonder if he really knew what he was doing when he took that nomination and made a joke to a friend by instructing them to “buckle up.” 

I think Pence was talking to himself. I think he was terrified. And now look what he has wrought on the country that his precious Ronald Reagan once presided over and who is still lauded by conservatives. 

No matter how many federal benches you helped fill, it’s a safe bet that you’ll never be remembered in the same way as your hero was. 

Mr. Vice President: Maybe you do think it really all was worth it. But history can be rough. 

Buckle up.