On Jan. 6, supporters of Donald Trump broke into the Capitol in an effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. While doing so, some of them chanted “Hang Mike Pence,” citing the vice president whose support for their plot was deemed insufficient. They got dangerously close to being able to make good on that threat.
As they were marauding through the Capitol, Trump offered his first thoughts on the siege. He took to Twitter not to call off the dogs, but to attack Pence. It’s a tweet that, we’ve come to find out, came despite Trump apparently having been apprised of the danger Pence and others faced.
Despite all of this, Pence’s brother, Rep. Greg Pence (R-Ind.), on Wednesday voted against a bipartisan commission to look into what transpired that day.
Not only did he do that, he also suggested it was actually House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who was planning a “hanging.” A political one. Of Trump.
There are many nuances here. Opposing this specific commission doesn’t inherently mean you don’t want to get to the bottom of what happened. But the proposal was a bipartisan one negotiated by a top House Republican, and 35 House Republicans voted for it. Yet despite Greg Pence having arguably the closest personal connection to someone directly targeted by the mob, he’s apparently not terribly interested in probing the situation. Like many Republicans, he appears more concerned that the probe will reflect poorly on his party.
Alas, he’s hardly the only Republican to apparently set aside Trump’s attacks on his family while aligning with Trump. We’ve seen it over and over again during the Trump era — and repeatedly in recent days.
Mike Pence himself has apparently let bygones be bygones. Despite the personal danger he faced thanks to Trump’s “big lie” about a stolen election — and an initial estrangement between the two men and Trump’s continued attacks to this day — Pence has reemerged by again touting the fealty to Trump that marked his four years as vice president. He even wrote an op-ed questioning the integrity of the election, despite courts repeatedly ruling against such claims and them leading to him being targeted.
Another Republican primed to cast a key and perhaps decisive vote against the Jan. 6 commission — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) — also has been heavily criticized by Trump in recent months. Trump has also gone after McConnell’s wife, former transportation secretary Elaine Chao, mocking her and attacking her over her supposed family ties to China. (Chao was born in Taiwan.) McConnell has in the past labeled similar attacks as racist.
But McConnell isn’t the only Republican to shrug off such ugly attacks on his family while standing by Trump.
Even just this week, George P. Bush reiterated he supports Trump and went so far as to say Trump should be the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nominee. This despite Trump having regularly attacked his uncle (former president George W. Bush) as being responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States; his dad (Jeb Bush), and even his mother (Columba Bush). Similar to the attack involving Chao’s heritage, Trump at one point promoted a tweet suggesting Jeb Bush was soft on “Mexican illegals” because his wife was born in Mexico. At a 2016 debate, Bush demanded an apology, but Trump declined and re-upped the attack.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) might be the most oft-cited example of this. Trump at one point promoted a tweet attacking the appearance of Cruz’s wife. Trump also suggestively floated a baseless supermarket tabloid conspiracy theory that Cruz’s father might have been involved in killing John F. Kennedy. (Sometimes we forget Trump actually did this, but I checked, and it did really happen.)
The attack on his wife was initially enough to make Cruz raise a ruckus at the 2016 Republican National Convention, but he has since become a top Trump ally.
Cruz, Pence and George P. Bush, of course, have rather obvious personal political calculi. Cruz and Pence clearly have presidential ambitions, and right now in the GOP that runs through Trump’s base. Bush might be the only high-profile member of his family standing by Trump, but he also just happens to be the one Bush who is ramping up his political career. He appears likely to challenge Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) in a primary in which there will be a premium on Trumpiness — or at least keeping Trump disengaged. (Paxton spearheaded the far-flung effort to get the Supreme Court to overturn Trump’s 2020 loss.)
For the others like Greg Pence and McConnell, it’s perhaps less about Trump and more about party fealty, which at the moment translates to fealty to Trump. McConnell, for instance, sharply criticized Trump’s conduct vis-a-vis Jan. 6 in an apparent effort to distance the Republican Party from Trump. But that effort failed, as Rep. Liz Cheney’s excommunication from the GOP House leadership shows. With that issue apparently settled, the Jan. 6 probe threatens to rehash a story that Republicans would very much like to avoid rehashing ahead of the 2022 election. That’s an election in which they have real hopes of regaining both chambers of Congress — and McConnell could regain his status as Senate majority leader. McConnell’s No. 2, Sen. John Thune (S.D.), essentially acknowledged that political calculus on Wednesday.
Political ambition and expediency have long led people to do rather inexplicable things, but very high on that list would seem to be shrugging off attacks on one’s own family members in the name of toeing the party line. Even if most anything is fair in political warfare, lodging attacks involving the heritage and appearance of one’s wife or mother would seem about as close to a red line as you could get.
But as with most every seemingly unwritten rule of politics, Trump has bulldozed this one. He has rendered high-profile members of his party uninterested in enforcing it. (He even seemed to throw it in Bush’s face during a joint appearance in 2019, labeling him “the only Bush who got it right.”)
If there’s anything that reinforces the grip Trump has on the party and how hard that has been on certain politicians’ pride, this would surely seem to be it.