Every Monday, Gail Collins and Bret Stephens have a “conversation” on the op-ed page of the New York Times. As I have noted on several occasions, I am a huge fan of Gail Collins, who argues for the liberal side in those conversations, and although I disagree with Bret Stephens–representing the conservative side– on a number of issues (not all), he makes me nostalgic for the time when Republicans a/k/a conservatives could be engaged in actual discussions. Today, they prefer to emulate monkeys throwing poo….
Unlike the inarticulate Trump Republicans hurling verbal poo, Stephens also has a real talent for witty invective, and that talent was on display in his conversation with Collins last Monday.
The column was titled “The Mike Pence Saga Tells Us More Than We Want to Know,” and after touching on a number of other issues, including New York’s mayoral primary and Trump’s Ohio rally, the conversation turned to Indiana’s ex-Governor and America’s ex-Vice-President, Mike Pence.
Here’s that portion of their back-and-forth:
Bret: You know, I probably spend more time thinking about Mike Pence than I ought to, given my high blood pressure. He reminds me of Mr. Collins, the unctuous clergyman in “Pride and Prejudice” who’s always bowing and scraping to the overbearing, tasteless, talentless Lady Catherine de Bourgh while he lords it over the Bennet family because he stands to inherit their estate. Alternatively, Pence could be a character out of Dickens, with some ridiculous name like Wackford Squeers or Mr. Pumblechook.
Gail: Wow, great analogies. Plus, it is indeed possible you spend more time thinking about Pence than you ought to.
Bret: Here’s a guy who makes his career on the Moral Majority wing of the Republican Party, until he hitches his wagon to the most immoral man ever to win a big-ticket presidential nomination. Phyllis Schlafly deciding to elope with Larry Flynt would have made more sense. Then Pence spends four years as the most servile, toadying, obsequious, fawning, head-nodding, yes-sirring, anything-you-say-boss vice president in history. He’ll do anything for Trump’s love — but not, as the singer Meat Loaf might have said, attempt to steal the presidential election in broad daylight.
For this, Trump rewards Pence by throwing him to a mob, which tried to hunt him down and hang him. But even now, Pence can’t get crosswise with his dark lord, so the idea of him ever taking the party in an anti-Trump direction seems like a fantasy.
Those of us who follow such things have watched as Pence tries to appeal both to Trumpers and to the majority of Americans who were appalled at efforts to withhold certification of the election results. He is continuing his adulation of his “dark lord” while insisting that his courageous fidelity to the Constitution kept him from refusing to perform his electoral duty. That balancing act is unlikely to mollify either the crazies who form the base of today’s GOP or anyone who spent four years observing Mike Pence. (It’s especially unlikely to endear him to Indiana voters, who found his preference for pontificating over governing during the prior four years very tiring).
Pence’s effort to cast himself as a defender of the Constitution is coming at the same time as Bill Barr’s equally tardy effort to distance himself from the Big Lie. (“It’s all bullshit.”)
Neither man is very persuasive, but the efforts are instructive. When two of his biggest sycophants attempt to distance themselves from the disaster that is Trump, it is a clear sign that his influence is waning–that those who were happy to carry his water when he was in office don’t expect him to regain power or influence–or be in any position to do them any good. (It’s too little, too late–Bill Barr is never going to regain the respect of the legal community, and Pence never had the respect of anyone other than a few naive fundamentalists.)
Wackford Squeers sounds about right…