An unhappy reality of being a Republican these days is that the things Donald Trump does, by and large, must be defended. That’s true even if you are trying to defeat him for the GOP presidential nomination. And even if you don’t really know what you’re vouching for.

A case in point: the telling exchange Mike Pence had on Wednesday night. In it, Pence clearly struggled to reconcile his views of a potential indictment of Trump in the classified-documents case.

The exchange reinforced the hoops Republicans feel they need to jump through in squaring their emphasis on law and order with their perceived duty to criticize a potential indictment.

The former vice president appeared at a CNN town hall with host Dana Bash shortly after launching a campaign that will pit him against the president he once served. And while criticizing Trump for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, he joined his fellow Republicans in arguing that Trump shouldn’t be indicted for his retention of and failure to return classified documents after leaving the White House. Pence even echoed GOP claims that Trump is the victim of an overzealous Justice Department.

“I hope the DOJ thinks better of it and resolves these issues without an indictment,” Pence said. He added: “I think it would also send a terrible message to the wider world. I mean, we’re the emblem of democracy. We’re the symbol of justice in the world.”

Pence also criticized the FBI search of Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago in August.

“I was very troubled last summer when, for the first time in history, there was a search warrant executed at the home of a former president of the United States,” Pence said, adding that “there had to be dozens of ways that could have been handled.”

But even as he was saying these things, Pence undercut his own argument.

Despite insisting that the search had to be unnecessary and that Trump’s treatment was “not equal treatment under the law,” Pence also conceded, “I don’t know the facts of the former president’s case.”

All of which led Bash to ask an extremely good question.

Given that Pence doesn’t know all the facts and that he spoke about committing to the rule of law, what if Trump actually did, you know, obstruct justice?

“Sir, I just want to clarify: What you’re saying is that, if they believe he committed a crime, they should not go forward with an indictment?” she said.

Pence struggled with this, to put it mildly.

“Sir, I just want to clarify what you’re saying is if they believe he committed a crime, they should not go forward with an indictment? You just talked before about committing to the rule of law.”

— Acyn (@Acyn) June 8, 2023

“No, look, let me be clear that no one’s above the law,” Pence said, before taking a demonstrative pause.

“But with regard to the unique circumstances here, it — look — I — I,” Pence said, stumbling.

Just to emphasize: “No one is above the law.” “But … unique circumstances.”

Ultimately Pence conceded that he, Trump and President Biden “had no business” having classified documents after leaving office.

“But I would just hope that there would be a way for them to move forward without the dramatic and drastic and divisive step of indicting a former president of the United States,” Pence said.

This lays bare the central tension in the GOP’s defense of Trump. Pence repeatedly mentioned Trump’s classified-documents problems alongside his and Biden’s, but the situations aren’t parallel. There is plenty of evidence that Trump resisted returning the documents when the federal government came calling, and even evidence that he knowingly withheld them. And it seems likely that any potential charges will be focused upon those things rather than having the documents in the first place.

But the GOP’s defenses of Trump and criticisms of the Justice Department have little time for the actual details. From the moment Mar-a-Lago was searched, Republicans leaped to defend Trump, despite knowing next to nothing about why the search occurred.

Soon a few brave GOP members floated the idea that perhaps there could be circumstances in which a search might have been warranted. One said that Trump might have had highly sensitive special-access-program documents in his possession. “Do you know how extraordinarily sensitive that is?” Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) asked Politico.

We soon learned that such documents were indeed seized. But that hasn’t chastened Republicans or thwarted their efforts to defend Trump to the hilt. They’ve camped out in the space that says this just isn’t warranted — and they’ll sort out the details later.

And now here is Trump’s former vice president saying no one should be above the law and acknowledging that he doesn’t really know what Trump did, but suggesting that perhaps this is a special case in which some unusual discretion should be exercised.

It also bears noting that, repeatedly on Wednesday, Pence walked up to the line of accusing Trump of trying to break the law in another case: his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

“Anyone who puts themselves above the Constitution should never be president in the first place,” Pence said at the town hall. He said earlier, “President Trump also demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution.”

Despite this, and despite not knowing the facts of the classified-documents case, it is apparently inconceivable to Pence that Trump might have broken the law badly enough to warrant an indictment.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

Comments are closed.