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Mike Pence is the worst kind of coward. A new book about Trump proves it.

NBC News logo NBC News 9/16/2021 Kurt Bardella
a man wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone © Provided by NBC News

Throughout the past five years, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the often-paraphrased (and incorrectly attributed) adage, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” To me, it goes a long way toward explaining how former President Donald Trump successfully hijacked the Republican Party. There simply weren’t enough Dan Quayles (yes, you read that right) around and all too many Mike Pences.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the former vice president on my How to Save Democracy bingo card, but thanks to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s forthcoming book, “Peril,” we now know much more about what Pence did — and what he didn’t do — as an angry insurrectionist mob tried to literally force itself into the halls of Congress. “Peril” isn’t out yet, so we’re relying on small snippets of excerpts and vignettes. But one story being circulated offers a revealing look at Pence’s character.

Desperate to find a mechanism that would allow Pence to overturn the election in favor of his boss, Pence reportedly called Quayle, also from Indiana, for advice. According to the book, Quayle definitively shut Pence down. “Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away.”

Think about it. The vice president of the United States was calling around looking for someone who would give him permission to preside over the complete collapse of our democratic process. The fact that Pence was asking advice from Quayle, whose tenure in the George H.W. Bush White House is a political punchline, makes the whole situation that much more absurd.

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Over the years, Pence has been portrayed as a reluctant hostage or passive observer to Trump’s madness. He has been jokingly compared to an “elf on a shelf” and mocked for his run-ins with flies. But the truth is Mike Pence has been just as detrimental to democracy as Donald Trump has, maybe even more so.

Trump has all the subtlety of a professional wrestler. Which means we pretty much always saw him coming. That doesn’t mean he could always be stopped, but at least there was a chance. But as Trump officials like Stephen Miller proved, the people who studiously stay silent, hoping to go undetected as they work achieve their means, can be far more dangerous in the long-term.

Pence has many of the same sexist, xenophobic, homophobic and anti-democratic impulses as Trump. He just knows he has to be more careful about how he expresses them.

The Pence-Quayle vignette suggests the lengths Pence was potentially willing to go to in order to fulfill Trump’s election fraud. He wasn’t going to tweet about “stopping the steal,” but behind closed doors, he was considering it.

"'You don't know the position I'm in," Pence told Quayle, according to Woodward and Costa. But actually, all of America knew exactly the position he was in. That’s not the point.

Sure, Pence puts on a veneer of the Midwestern everyman with Christian values, but a man who rode shotgun with Trump for four years serves at the altar of only one true god, and that god is power.

Someone willing to undermine a free and fair election in a craven (and illegal bid) to hold on to power is corrupt and morally bankrupt. And clearly, the idea that Pence acted as some sort of hero to democracy by presiding over the certification of the election is a myth. In reality, it seems he wasn’t a hapless bystander as his boss worked to advance “The Big Lie.” He was a wannabe co-conspirator. And the House Select Committee investigating Jan. 6 should hold a public hearing where they hear testimony from both Quayle and Pence.

The American people have a right to know the full totality of the former vice president’s complicity in this assault on our democratic institutions. The Capitol Police officers and local law enforcement personnel who were overrun by domestic terrorists on Jan. 6 deserve to know if one of the people they were charged with protecting was also acting as an agent of democratic arsonists.

Mike Pence has turned silence into an art form. He is now skillfully using it to avoid scrutiny and responsibility in an effort to rehabilitate and launder his tarnished reputation. It’s time to drop the charade.

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