There’s a popular saying in politics that goes like this: “Never wrestle with a pig. You get filthy, and the pig enjoys it.”

Mike Pence may have gained new appreciation for that metaphor recently when he flopped into the mud pit with his former boss, Donald Trump, who plucked him from the heartland in 2016 to become his vice-presidential running mate.

Pence was a beleaguered candidate in his reelection bid for Indiana’s governor when Trump was trying to shore up flagging support among evangelical voters. The GOP presidential nominee tapped Pence as the guy to give him a boost with that critical conservative voting bloc.

The partnership worked out well for both Trump and Pence — at least for a while. Trump won a tight election to become president, and Pence became vice president.

But Trump’s piggishness is never far from the surface. Having lost his reelection bid in 2020 to Joe Biden, Trump encouraged Pence to violate his constitutional oath and refuse to certify Biden’s Electoral College victory in Congress on Jan. 6, 2021. Pence declined, triggering a riot on Capitol Hill by an angry mob of Trump supporters encouraged by Trump himself. The mob even erected a gallows outside and chanted “Hang Mike Pence” as they trashed the Capitol building and temporarily halted the peaceful transfer of power.

The partnership hasn’t been the same ever since. Trump viewed his VP’s refusal to cooperate with his attempted coup as a betrayal. Pence was slow to respond, but eventually expressed his anger and disappointment about the predicament foisted upon him that day.

Pence is now mulling a primary run for president in 2024. With Trump already a declared candidate, Pence treads carefully when criticizing the former president. But he isn’t staying quiet.

Pence, at a recent media banquet, increased the intensity of his ire toward Trump over what happened on Jan. 6.

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

It didn’t take long for Trump to retaliate.

“Had he sent the votes back to the legislatures, they wouldn’t have had a problem with Jan. 6, so in many ways you can blame him for Jan. 6,” Trump told the Washington Post.

Pence’s new tone with Trump demonstrates a willingness to challenge the former president for his actions on Jan. 6. But we can’t ignore the fact that Pence was often complacent and compliant during Trump’s presidency. As Trump grew bolder in flouting the rule of law, Pence’s courage was not on display, at least not publicly.

When news broke last weekend that Trump was expecting to be indicted in the 2016 scheme to pay hush money to an adult film actress over an alleged affair years earlier and declare it as a campaign legal expense, Pence wasn’t as willing to hold Trump accountable. Rather, he adopted the partisan position of suggesting Trump was being treated unfairly.

“It just feels like a politically charged prosecution here,” Pence said during a news show.

Once again, Pence is his former boss’s apologist and defender.

Will history judge Mike Pence as a hero with regard to Trump’s worst instincts?

While the vice president did the right thing standing up to Trump’s undemocratic and illegal actions of Jan. 6, 2021, Pence’s legacy remains far more complicated.

Tribune-Star, Terre Haute

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