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Campaign Conflicts: If You’re Going To Be Prideful, At Least Make Sure Your Facts Are Straight

I’ve thought or repeated something like it dozens of times: “Arrogance is bad. Arrogance plus stupidity is ‘bad’ on stilts.”

I was reminded of this aphorism by a contentious, early August encounter between current presidential candidate Mike Pence and a sprinkling of activists who were — plainly — not fans.

The episode made national headlines. Michael Graham writes the sixty-four-year-old former vice-president was confronted in a swing through New Hampshire by a “handful of protesters calling him a ‘traitor’ and ‘sellout.’ When one protester … shouted at Pence that he should ‘uphold the Constitution,’ Pence shot back: ‘I upheld the Constitution. Read it.'”

The gravamen of this beef with the veteran politician has to do with the claim supported by some — Donald Trump, among them — that, on January 6, 2021, the then-Vice President could have unilaterally leveraged his ceremonial function of certifying the states’ electoral votes to obstruct Biden’s victory and potentially deliver the White House back to DT. A few days previously, Pence’s famously tweeting boss had publicly floated this option, dubbing it: the “Pence card“.

“I frankly dismissed it out of hand,” the Indiana pol explained in an interview with New Hampshire’s Union Leader.

It was inconceivable to me the Founders would give one person the power to decide electoral votes to count and which ones to discount. I made it clear to the president every time it came up that I did not have this authority.

“I had no right to overturn the election,” he elaborated to Granite State radio host Jack Heath.

I had no right to reject or return votes, and the president was wrong to ask me to do it. Anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be president of the United States. And anyone who asks someone else to put them over their oath to the Constitution should never be president again.

So, three-and-one-half years ago, Pence refused to play along with the forty-fifth president’s imaginative scheme — and that stand has earned him the unquenchable ire of not a few Trumpists. It’s common in some MAGA-world claques to hear the “J word” (“Judas”) splattered promiscuously on Pence’s name — including by some of my fellow denizens of the “Christian Right” who you’d really think would know better. For obvious reasons, if any interest group ought to grasp the singular and horrid weightiness of that slander it should be them.

It’s nearly comical finding out Pence-loathers are showing up in public spaces to bark that the U.S. Constitution had empowered him — all by his lonesome — to rebuff state electors’ votes on that now notorious mid-winter’s day. Does any serious person actually believe the nation’s founding charter contained that option? Recall, the Constitution was the illustrious, deeply contemplated creation of a people who’d waged a costly war to throw off despotic one-man rule (King George III? Remember him?). How likely is it the statesmen who formulated it would have left the door cracked for another willful individual (in this case, the President’s second) to vacate the apparent choice of “We the People”?

How would these anti-Pence firebrands have reacted if the party of Bill Clinton had pressed this tactic in the rabidly contested 2000 election (Bush v. Gore)? (The oft-parroted refrain back then was “Bush was selected, not elected.”) Or if their Democrat successors had attempted the same in 2004 (“Those @#&!*!* Diebold Voting Machines in Ohio!”); or in 2016’s race (“Russian Interference” anyone?) I suspect the GOP’s populist ardor for the VP-as-election-decider would have been decidedly more muted.

Further to that: Do Pence’s tormentors relish the prospect of Kamala Harris’s throwing the switch to cancel electoral votes should things not go her gang’s way in 2024?

Fact is, there is probably not a solitary, respected constitutional adept who sincerely holds the towering luminaries who mid-wifed this Republic had entertained, let alone designed into that cherished document, anything like this measure floated by Trump and Co.

Aren’t Liberals and Leftists normally the ones unearthing previously unrecognized – and dubious — constitutional “rights” (Hello! Legalized abortion? Sacrosanct “trans” prerogatives? Protections from hurt feelings?) Yet, lately, it’s a clamoring gaggle of so-called “conservatives” experiencing their “a-ha!” moment. They’ve excavated an allegedly long-overlooked vice-presidential duty with positively tectonic governmental implications! Who knew?

No less a Donald-Trump-Can-Do-No-Wrong commentator than Gary Bauer opined on the afternoon of January 6, 2021(!):

I believe that if the vice president took the action that the president is urging him to take, it would not stand up under judicial scrutiny … I want to be honest with you: I do not see a scenario that results in Donald Trump taking the oath of office on January 20th. … Some have suggested that Vice President Mike Pence has the authority to make certain rulings or declarations. I do not believe that is the case. … Under the [1887] Electoral Count Act, the vice president’s role is purely ceremonial. The act is clear that any disputes or objections are to be resolved by votes in the individual houses of Congress, not by the vice president…. Those suggesting that Pence has that power would be agreeing with the notion that four years ago Joe Biden could have rejected the Electoral College votes and declared Hillary Clinton the winner of the 2016 presidential election.

Well expressed, Mr. Bauer. And ouch.

I have no desire to see Mike Pence as President of the United States. He’s been a piercing disappointment to me in times past. But in the nation’s Capital on that obnoxious January 6 day he shone. And, a little over two weeks ago, in his rejoinder to a bunch of pompous New Hampshire no-nothings who accosted him for not impudently repudiating the official Election 2020 decision? Chef’s kiss!  Whether dim-witted, too prone to unreflectively swallow their idol’s ideological Kool-Aid or merely uninformed, those hecklers received the perfect response from the beleaguered Pence: I upheld the Constitution. Read it.”

That retort catalyzes the question: Had any of that gang ever objectively perused the document? At all? Could they persuasively lay out the grounds for this perceived vice-presidential super-power with which they’re smugly flogging Pence?

Old Testament? New Testament? They both exhaustively dunk on pride. The Apostles James’s and Peter’ s citation of Proverbs 3: 34 would be two among copious examples: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble” (NKJV). Whether it’s operating in Democrats or Republicans, found in Barack Obama, Sen. Chuck Schumer or Rep. Nancy Pelosi with their noses in the air or Donald Trump and his shock troops sneering at every adversary and superciliously hawking a heretofore undiscovered constitutional provision — pride consistently gets the Divine thumbs down.

And when arrogant types marry their pride with daftness? Hoo-boy … the problem only intensifies; mortifyingly. The Book of Proverbs doesn’t mince words when it denounces overconfident wrongheadedness: 17: 28 observes, “Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; When he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive” (NKJV). That particular Old Testament tome, in fact, is chock-a-block with astringent admonitions against the haughtily harebrained (12:23, 13:16, 15:2, 28).

High-handedness is never a good look. But if a person is going to go down that road, it’s recommended he/she know what they’re talking about. If not? A little humility — and tight-lips — are in order. It could forestall a lot of high-profile embarrassment.

Steve Pauwels

Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.