By Paul V. DeMarco
It’s a question I pose seriously to my fellow citizens who plan to vote for Donald Trump if he runs again.
Let’s ignore the personalities for a moment and compare two theoretical candidates. We will stipulate that our two candidate’s policy positions are indistinguishable. Candidate A is a handsome, trim, 62-year-old former governor who has led a virtuous life. He has been married to a Midwestern schoolteacher for 36 years. He is so faithful that he will not dine alone with another woman to avoid the appearance of impropriety. He is a devout, Bible-believing Christian. He’s measured in his responses and disagrees agreeably. He has pets, including dogs, cats, and rabbits.
Candidate B is a 75-year-old businessman who is not handsome or trim. Even his most ardent supporters acknowledge he can be mean-spirited and crass. He has been thrice married and is alleged to have had several affairs. He has been recorded making profoundly misogynistic remarks. His business record is checkered. A number of his enterprises – including an airline, a private university, a mortgage company, and multiple casinos – have gone bankrupt. He’s one of only a few men ever to be featured on the cover of Playboy magazine. He has no pets.
Without attaching names to the candidates described, it seems that Candidate A would be the overwhelming favorite of most Republicans, especially evangelical Christians, who since the 1980s have been trying to persuade America that they represent the Moral Majority. Every Sunday School teacher or parent could hold Candidate A up as a role model. Not so Candidate B, who doesn’t attend church regularly and who when asked during the campaign, “Have you ever had to ask God for forgiveness?” responded “That’s a tough question… I’m not sure I have.”
Moving out of the theoretical realm back to reality, there’s also the small matter that Mike Pence saved our democracy from Donald Trump’s attempts to subvert it.
This is the part that voters like me have the hardest time understanding. Pence gives you everything you say you want. He’s a smart, likeable man. He has a wholesome family without a hint of scandal. He holds all of Trump’s policy positions: voter integrity, Second Amendment rights, strong borders, pro-life, low taxes, anti-globalism, an aggressive anti-China posture, America first.
I can understand how Republican voters were taken with Trump during the 2016 campaign. I heard these sorts of accolades about Trump back then: “He talks tough;” “He says what he thinks;” “He’s a businessman;” “He’ll drain the swamp;” “He’s a disrupter.”
You didn’t know exactly what you were getting, but you wanted someone different. Then we heard: “He’ll become more presidential once in office;” “He’ll moderate his tweets.” But that didn’t happen. He was just as bombastic and hyperbolic after being inaugurated. Despite demanding loyalty from his Cabinet, he showed them none and dismissed several via Twitter. Through it all, Pence stood by Trump, gamely defending him.
If you voted for Trump as a disrupter, you got what you wanted, but at the peril of our country. Trump’s temperament – his intuitive, freewheeling approach, and his tendency to make self-interest the focal point of every decision – made him interesting and attractive to many voters, but it also made him dangerous. Presidential candidates spend most of their time talking about their policy positions. We are wise to remember that presidents only implement a fraction of what they propose. But they always face unforeseen crises. When Trump lost the election, the fullness of his narcissism was exposed. His fragile ego couldn’t process his loss, so he now can’t get a minute into a speech or interview without disputing the outcome, despite the fact that more than 60 courts have ruled against his legal challenges, and no evidence of significant fraud has been uncovered.
In his rage, he tried to bully Pence into delivering a body blow to American democracy. He publicly and privately goaded him to “do the right thing.” As the Capitol rioters stormed the Senate chambers searching for his Vice-President, Trump did nothing, hoping the certification would be derailed. Adding to the virtue of Pence’s actions is that in opposing Trump’s self-interest, he was opposing his own. Had the election been overturned, Pence would have remained vice president and been the front runner in 2024.
But Pence is a statesman and a patriot who cares more for his country than himself. That chaotic day, his principled stand averted a crippling constitutional crisis. The images beamed across the globe showing our Capitol under attack did damage enough to America’s place as the world’s premier democracy. How much greater would have been the damage if Pence had capitulated? He stood in the gap, saving our electoral process from veering off a high cliff.
Let me be clear: I say this as someone who would likely vote against Pence if he were nominated. I disagree with his positions on health care, climate change, immigration, racial justice, and LGBTQ rights among others. But the goal of our primary process is to nominate two people who both have the temperament to lead the country through whatever crises befall them during their term, not to create them.
I wouldn’t prefer Pence to a centrist Democrat. I would be part of his loyal opposition if he were elected. But I would be glad to have a Republican nominee who respected the office and traditions of the presidency, and articulated his policy positions well. And we would all sleep better, Republicans and Democrats, knowing that if he won, our democracy would be secure.
Paul DeMarco is a physician who resides in Marion, S.C. Reach him at email@example.com. A version of this column appeared in the 2/2/22 edition of the Florence Morning News.