Mar 08, 2022

Mike Pence is no profile in courage,

By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst "Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. His forthcoming paperback is The Cost of Chaos: The Trump Administration and the World. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN. " (CNN)Gearing up for what appears to be a run for president in 2024, former Vice President Mike Pence is seeking to put some daylight between him and his former boss. In a speech to Republican donors on Friday, Pence declared, "There is no room in this party for apologists for (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. There is only room for champions of freedom." Former President Donald Trump, of course, has been an Olympic-level Putin apologist for years. Just two days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Trump praised Putin's actions in Ukraine as "savvy" and "genius." Trump's long bromance with Putin provides Pence with a handy political opening to distinguish himself, especially since polling shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans back increased economic sanctions against Russia, according to a CNN poll. But if Pence thinks this will give him a significant leg up over Trump, he has misjudged both the former president and his supporters. A man who could pay an adult-film star hush money and publicly attack a Gold Star family during his first presidential campaign is hardly going to get tripped up because of his longstanding embrace of Putin. Is Pence really just seeing the light on the Putin issue now that Russia has invaded Ukraine? Where was he when Trump was genuflecting before Putin in Helsinki in 2018 and siding with the Russian leader over his own intelligence agencies' assessment that Russia had interfered with the 2016 election? Let's not forget that throughout Trump's presidency, Pence treated his boss with the groveling obeisance of a North Korean butler waiting on the Dear Leader. Pence doesn't have much credibility now that he's trying to take the high road. Remember the painful Covid-19 task force briefings, where Pence would often unctuously praise Trump's "leadership"? What leadership? This was a president who admitted to downplaying the threat of coronavirus and failed to take steps that could have prevented tens of thousands of deaths, according to the coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx's testimony before the House Select Subcommittee which investigated the crisis. \ And remember also the televised cabinet meeting in December 2017 when Pence praised the President 14 times in less than three minutes? Now Pence is trying to change his tune -- by doing the bare minimum. Last month, when he said, "President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election," commentators praised him for "growing a spine." What Pence said was a basic acknowledgement of the truth, and yet his comments were treated in some quarters as a mark of steely, Churchillian resolve. Of course, Pence made no public mention of the fact that his former boss stirred up the mob that stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, some of them chanting "Hang Mike Pence!" Nor did Pence call out the tsunami of other lies that Trump and his closest allies have made about the 2020 presidential election. Pence is no profile in courage. Trump's in-your-face lying and hucksterism is almost preferable to the sanctimonious sycophancy of Pence. And yet, he seems to be laboring under the delusion that the election-denying Republican Party that he enabled his former boss to transform is somehow clamoring for his wisdom and guidance. Polling suggests that this is a serious delusion; a CNN poll released in February found that among Republican voters considering candidates for the 2024 race, 54% supported Trump getting the party's nomination. And among the Republican-aligned voters who want a nominee other than Trump, it was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who polled at 21%, while other possible candidates polled at around 1%. If there's one thing Americans seem to dislike more than a habitual liar like Trump, it's a patent phony like Pence.