Opinion: 2024? Forget it, Mike

File photo/Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times / Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks to reporters at The New York Times DealBook Summit 2022 at Jazz At Lincoln Center in Manhattan on Nov. 30, 2022.
File photo/Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times / Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks to reporters at The New York Times DealBook Summit 2022 at Jazz At Lincoln Center in Manhattan on Nov. 30, 2022.

With the 2024 presidential election a mere 590 or so days in the distance, few so-called news stories could interest me less on the upslope of 2023 than candidate kabuki at the start of a 19-month pregame show.

My general policy for the 2024 race is: Wake me when it's 2024, but former Vice President Mike Pence woke me recently with his remarks at Washington's Gridiron Dinner.

Pence somehow believes there's a yearning for his candidacy on a landscape where the left despises him, the hard right was last seen trying to hang him, and there's little but his low-wattage conservatism to interest anyone in between.

Part of Pence's shtick was a tasteless attack on Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, on the LGBT+ community, on postpartum women and, far less significantly, on comedy.

He opened by complaining that despite America's travel problems last year, Buttigieg took "maternity leave," after he and his husband adopted twins. "Pete is the only person in human history to have a child, and everybody else gets postpartum depression," Pence added.

Right, try the veal.

Among those not laughing, Chasten Buttigieg, Pete's husband, who asked on Twitter: "An honest question for you Mike Pence, after your attempted joke this weekend. If your grandchild was born prematurely and placed on a ventilator at two months old -- their tiny fingers wrapped around yours as the monitors beep in the background -- where would you be?"

At the root of all this is that Pence is painfully desperate to stay relevant despite ridiculously early polling that places him about a mile behind Ron DeSantis and two miles behind Trump. He was so desperate he even tried the truth.

"President Trump was wrong," Pence said. "I had no right to overturn the (2020) election. And his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day. And I know that history will hold Donald Trump accountable."

History might, but it will get no help from Pence, as he still refuses to testify about Jan. 6 to the Department of Justice.

"The American people have a right to know what took place at the Capitol on January 6th," Pence told dinner guests he'd apparently thought had been immunized against irony. "But make no mistake about it, what happened that day was a disgrace, and it mocks decency to portray it any other way."

You won't hear much of that on the campaign trail, I don't imagine. Pence knows it's a losing argument to the MAGAmaniacs and he'll soon understand he's a loser as well, because nobody nowhere is buying this notion that he's a hero for not overturning an election. Cornered by Trump, who called him a wimp and the p-word on Jan. 6, Pence did the only thing that was legal -- he certified the electoral votes. He decided not to break the law. Hundreds of millions of Americans make the same decision every day. They're not heroes for it.

Further, Pence was perfectly willing to watch a multi-front coup attempt to inflate on every side of him for months without making a sound, the same way he spent every hour of Trump's decency-mocking presidency as its primary lickspittle. If ultimately he didn't go all in with the insurrectionists, it wasn't because he didn't want to.

In late December 2020, Pence phoned the only other former vice president from Indiana, Dan Quayle, who'd himself certified the election of Bill Clinton on Jan. 6, 1993, because, you know, it was the law. "Mike, you have no flexibility on this -- none, zero, forget it; put it away," Quayle told Pence on the pages of Bob Woodward and Robert Costa's "Peril."

"I know, that's what I've been trying to tell Trump," Pence said. "But he really thinks he can. And there are other guys in there saying I've got this power."

"You don't, just stop it. Forget it," Quayle said.

Would that Pence's question had been, "Do I have a chance in 2024?" because Quayle's advice in that moment fits this moment perfectly.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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