The most important action Mike Pence took in four years as America’s vice president was to finally defy President Donald Trump.

It came with just two weeks left in their term. It came after Trump put Pence in the impossible position of either upholding the U.S. Constitution, or violating that cherished cornerstone of democracy to perpetuate the president’s obsessive fantasy that he won the 2020 election.

That predicament was the thanks Pence got after four years of unflinching subservience to Trump. Over and over, Pence had spun the president’s outlandish ideas and comments into something logical, avoided upstaging the thin-skinned former reality TV star, and always credited his boss for every success, even when those successes occurred in spite of the commander-in-chief, not because of him.

In the end, Trump threw Pence under a bus, just as he has done so many, many, many others.

The president disparaged Pence for not violating the Constitution on Trump’s behalf. The president did so on Twitter, of course, after inciting supporters at a rally near the White House. That rally spawned a faction of rioters storming toward the U.S. Capitol, scaling its walls, breaking down barricades, overrunning police and bursting into those halls of democracy, where Pence was carrying out his role as president of the Senate.

It was that duty which put Pence in Trump’s high-rise doghouse. Pence fulfilled that obligation in a Senate session disrupted by the insurgence that left five people dead, including a Capitol police officer, at least 56 police officers injured and the Capitol building itself damaged and vandalized. Intruders 
ransacked offices, posed for selfies and scrawled violent messages on doors.

The assault was a sad, grotesque sight, viewed worldwide.

After lawmakers evacuated, order was restored and Congress eventually certified the election, despite a few unrelenting Trump loyalists continuing to contest the outcome. Theirs was a fool’s errand.

As Senate president, Pence’s lone constitutional role was to open and count the Electoral College votes from each state in the Nov. 3 presidential election. The Constitution calls on the Senate to then certify the count. As Utah’s Republican Sen. Mike Lee said, “Our job is to convene to open the ballots and to count them. That’s it.”

Instead, the president wanted Pence to intervene in the process and prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s clear election.

Pence chose the Constitution. That is not surprising. While his policies and stances as a congressman, former governor of Indiana and vice president often deserved criticism, Pence’s admiration for the Constitution is hard to question. That is not true of the president.

Trump’s core character trait, narcissism, remained foremost following his election defeat, as he constantly tweeted conspiracy theories and insisted that any electoral outcome that did not declare him the winner was illegitimate. Never mind that multiple recounts in multiple states verified their vote totals, and that dozens of judges — many appointed by Trump himself — had rejected his lawyers’ wacky lawsuits.

Only after calls for Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office, and the resignations of Cabinet members and staffers in protest of his incitement of the gruesome Capitol melee, did Trump finally concede on Thursday and promise a peaceful transition of power. Trump’s grudging concession comes far too late. The damage has been done to the democracy and its institutions and traditions.

Until Wednesday’s bizarre Senate session, Pence’s future in national office appeared permanently stained by his maddeningly absolute alignment with Trump’s incoherent presidency. Once all of that got stripped down to a choice between the Constitution and Trump, the vice president put America first. For that, Trump banged out a Twitter attack on his overused cellphone that his righthand man “didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done.”

Wrong, again, Mr. President. Your vice president did exactly what he should have done.
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