Vice President Mike Pence was asked good questions on a number of topics he completely ignored — on President Donald Trump’s health, on the Affordable Care Act, on what a post-Roe v. Wade Indiana should be like, and more.
Sen. Kamala Harris evaded her share of questions too, particularly on whether Democrats would try to expand the Supreme Court.
But the most important of the questions Pence evaded had to do with the bedrock of American democracy: the peaceful transfer of power after a presidential election.
Trump’s done it enough to raise concern about Republicans looking for ways to undermine the popular vote in states and engineer an Electoral College victory.
But it’s not every day you get the chance to ask Pence what his role will be after Election Day.
Pence is not just any other citizen; he’s the person who oversees the counting of electoral votes in January. It’s a ministerial role, but still important. He’s also the person, under the 25th Amendment, who would take over for Trump in case of an incapacitating emergency.
And if, God forbid, Trump did try to upend the results, he’d be only as powerful as the people standing with him.
Pence’s answer Wednesday makes clear that, for now, he is not willing to cross his boss and say the winner of the election should be the next president.
It was actually even less direct than the answers Attorney General William Barr has given to the same type of question — that he’d respect the results if they’re “clear.”
(Note: Either Barr or Pence could put all of this to rest by saying they’d honor the results, whatever they may be. But they keep not doing that.)
So it’s very important to closely read Pence’s words.
Here’s the full exchange between Pence and the debate’s moderator, Susan Page of USA Today (with some context bracketed in):
PAGE: Thank you. President Trump has several times refused to commit himself to a peaceful transfer of power after the election. If Vice President Biden is declared the winner, and President Trump refused a peaceful transfer of power, what would be your role? What would you personally do? You have two minutes.
PENCE: Well, Susan, first and foremost, I think we’re going to win this election.
Because while Joe Biden and Kamala Harris rattle off a long litany of the establishment in Washington, DC, that Joe Biden has been a part of for 47 years, President Donald Trump has launched a movement of everyday Americans from every walk of life. And I have every confidence that the same Americans that delivered the historic victory in 2016, they see this President’s record: We have rebuilt the military, revived the economy, with tax cuts, fair trade and American energy. We’ve appointed conservatives to courts at every level, and we’ve stood with the men and women of law enforcement every single day.
And that movement has only grown stronger in the last four years.
(Context: This first portion is a normal political argument and there’s nothing objectionable about it other than it completely ignores the very important question.)
But when you talk about accepting the outcome of the election, I must tell you, Senator, your party has spent the last three and a half years trying to overturn the results of the last election. It’s amazing.
(Context: This is not true. While Hillary Clinton didn’t personally accept the results and lots of Democrats still get hives when they think about the fact that millions more people voted for her than for Trump, Trump is the President. And the Russia investigation was begun by career FBI officials, not Democrats. The special counsel was appointed by Trump’s own Justice Department.)
When Joe Biden was vice president of the United States, the FBI actually spied on President Trump and my campaign.
There were documents released this week that the CIA made a referral to the FBI documenting that those allegations were coming from the Hillary Clinton campaign.
And we’ve all seen the avalanche, what you put the country through for the better part of three years until it was found there was no obstruction, no collusion, case closed.
And then, Senator Harris, you and your colleagues in the Congress tried to impeach the President of the United States over a phone call.
And now Hillary Clinton has said to Joe Biden, in her words, under no circumstances should he concede the election.
I think we’re going to win this election.
President Trump and I are fighting every day to prevent Joe Biden and Kamala Harris from changing the rules and creating this universal mail-in voting that will create a massive opportunity for voter fraud. And we have a free and fair election, we know we’re going to have confidence in it. And I know and believe that President Donald Trump will be reelected for four more years.
See what he did there? Instead of answering Page’s question about what role he’d play if Trump lost the election and wouldn’t concede, Pence laid out a number of reasons he thinks Trump’s been unfairly maligned as President and how flawed he’s worried the election system may be.
That most certainly is not a pledge to honor the outcome of the election.