INDIANAPOLIS — The fissure snaking through the Republican Party comes down to what appears to be Donald Trump’s chaos wing, and Mike Pence’s constitutional GOP. And in Pence’s hometown of Columbus, Ind., the party loyalty appears to be divided.
As former president Trump faces his second impeachment trial beginning Feb. 8, this much has come to light: Beginning in early October through the Nov. 3 election, Trump plotted with key aides. Once the “red mirage” of an early Trump lead had been forecast before much of the mail-in vote was counted, Trump planned to declare victory Election Night until Fox News called Arizona for Joe Biden that gave him the Electoral College victory, according to “fly-on-the-wall” reporting from Axios’s Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu. This would become known as “the big lie.”
In late December, a TV ad by the Lincoln Project aimed at an audience of one — Trump — suggested that Pence would essentially be the one who would terminate his presidency. “The end is coming, Donald. On Jan. 6, Mike Pence will put the nail in your political coffin,” the ad’s voiceover said.
Trump’s efforts to, as he put it, “overturn” the election reached a crescendo on Jan. 6. According to Axios, Trump called Pence late that morning to take one last shot at bullying the vice president into objecting to the certification of Biden’s victory. Unsuccessful in convincing Pence to join this conspiracy, President Trump goaded his supporters at a “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse that he had promised would be “wild” into a march on the U.S. Capitol. Pence was presiding in the Senate over what had been a perfunctory congressional counting of Electoral College ballots certified by the 50 states.
“Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country. And if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you,” Trump said, egging his supporters on. ”If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify, and we become president.”
By the time they reached the Capitol, Trump supporters had become a “mob” that would be later described by former President George W. Bush and U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (the 2012 GOP presidential nominee) as an “insurrection.”
In the ultimate split screen moment, Pence had arrived in the Senate and his office indicated he would play no extra-Constitutional efforts to thwart the will of the people because there was no credible evidence to do so, while the mob descended on the Capitol, where five people that included a Capitol police officer would die. Pence and family were evacuated from the Senate chamber minutes before the mob arrived, taken to a secure site, where the vice president remained for hours.
According to Axios, Trump, sequestered in his private White House dining room to watch the TV coverage, never checked on Pence’s safety, instead tweeting, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”
South Carolina Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Rice told ABC News, “I’m convinced these people outside, tens of thousands shouting ‘hang Mike Pence,’ if they had gotten their hands on Mike Pence, they would have killed him. I’m convinced of that.”
Axios: After all the bullying, the abuse, the Twitter tirades, the calls to violence, Pence assessed his options. He’d stood with Trump – not complaining, not explaining – through four years. On the eve of the transfer of power, Pence’s team made clear he wouldn’t attend Trump’s final sendoff at Joint Base Andrews, choosing instead to attend Biden’s swearing-in.
After watching President Biden’s inauguration, Pence, his wife and his daughter flew to Columbus, Ind., where a small, socially distanced, masked crowd met him at the airport. Pence said he told his wife, Karen, they would move back to Indiana in the summertime.
On Wednesday, “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough described Pence as “in hiding back in Indiana,” because “there are people who have Mike Pence on their hit list because of Donald Trump.”
In a story by Columbus Republic reporter Andy East in Pence’s hometown, the end of the Trump/Pence administration has divided Republicans. Bartholomew County Republican Chairwoman Barb Hackman said, “All the support and loyalty that Mike showed the president and then for him to do that has really upset a lot of local Republicans. And there have been some local Republicans that are upset that Mike didn’t go along with what Trump was wanting him to do.”
East reported, ”The ‘differences of opinion’ come as Republican officials across the country confront profound questions about what the GOP stands for in the wake of the Capitol riot and with Trump out of office. Over the past four years, the GOP’s values were inexorably tied to the whims of a president who regularly sought to undermine democratic institutions and traded the party’s long-standing commitment to fiscal discipline, strong foreign policy and the rule of law for a brash and inconsistent populism. The party now faces a decision about whether to keep moving in that direction, as legions of Trump’s most loyal supporters demand, or chart a new course.”
For now, the national Republican Party appears to be headed for this divide: Trump Chaos v. Pence Constitutionalism.
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.