No part of that is true. No states were interested in “decertifying” their results because there was no evidence that their certified tallies had included any significant number of fraudulent votes. The processes under which elections were conducted were the subject of after-the-fact complaints, but there was no suggestion that results would be tossed; in fact, a judge in Pennsylvania specifically said they wouldn't be.
But most importantly, Pence had only a ceremonial role to play in the counting of electoral votes later that day. He had no more power to reject how voters had cast their ballots than he did to sell the Capitol for a profit.
In a speech in New Hampshire on Thursday, Pence glossed over the events that followed in the hours after Trump's tweet.
“President Trump and I have spoken many times since we left office, and I don’t know if we’ll ever see eye-to-eye on that day,” he said at a Republican Party dinner in the state. “But I will always be proud of what we accomplished for the American people over the last four years. And I will not allow Democrats or their allies in the media to use one tragic day to discredit the aspirations of millions of Americans.”
There is no American more accustomed to habitually reorienting Trump’s flights of fancy into something serviceable in the real world than Mike Pence. He has always had ambitions beyond the country’s No. 2 position and that meant trying to straddle the divide between Trump’s base and the Republican establishment. That divide narrowed and widened over the past four years as the base moved to the right and the establishment often belatedly followed it. But there was Pence, always standing athwart the gulf, arms out as he worked to keep his balance without letting his face betray his emotions.
Then came Jan. 6.
It's worth remembering how the two men, Trump and Pence, experienced that day — remembering the stark difference in what the Capitol violence looked like to each of them.
Trump was back on Twitter by 8 a.m., watching television and complaining about what he saw. Over the course of the morning, a steady pattern of complaints about the special elections in Georgia that had been held the previous day and, of course, complaints about his own election.
“States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval,” Trump rambled at one point. “All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”
At about 11:30 a.m., Trump and Pence spoke on the phone. Trump reportedly told Pence that he had a choice: He could “either go down in history as a patriot, or you can go down in history as a [wimp],” though Trump used a more vulgar term.
A half-hour later, Trump began speaking at a rally just outside the White House. With thousands in the crowd in front of him and his comments broadcast by protesters already near the Capitol, Trump kept up his complaints about the election and his insistence that Pence could simply overturn the election. Over and over, Trump put the entirety of his and his supporters’ hopes on Pence’s shoulders.
“We’re going to have to fight much harder,” Trump said. “And Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn’t, that will be a — a sad day for our country because you’re sworn to uphold our Constitution.”
At about 1 p.m., Trump ends his speech. He'd exhorted those in attendance to march to the Capitol, where the electoral votes were about to be counted. He pledged that he would be with them — but then retreated to the White House to watch the day unfold on television.
Shortly after 2 p.m., rioters who’d already pushed past Capitol Police barriers and struggled with law enforcement officers outside the building pushed into the Capitol. By all reports, Trump was watching television broadcasts with approval. If he was watching Fox News at 2:20 p.m. or so, which is likely, he saw a protester interviewed by a Fox reporter.
The protester explained that he'd come from Florida because “President Trump told us we had something big to look forward to.” He believed that “Vice President Pence was going to certify the electoral votes — or not certify them” — though Pence, at about the time Trump wrapped up his speech, had publicly announced that he wasn't going to block the electoral vote count, since he couldn't.
“It’s a very big disappointment,” the protester said.
Shortly afterward, Trump tweeted about Pence.
“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,” he wrote, “giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”
By 3 p.m., cable news channels were showing rioters in the Senate chamber. It wasn’t until 3:13 p.m., though, that Trump actually called for any restraint from the rioters.
“I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful,” he tweeted. “No violence!”
Nothing about leaving the Capitol, where the effort to count the electoral votes had been delayed. During that delay spurred by the protesters, Trump and his allies reportedly sought to pressure members of Congress to extend the delay so that something, somehow might tip their way.
For Pence, the day was less giddy.
As soon as he announced that he wouldn't and couldn't protest the results, the crowd turned on him. After all, Trump had pledged that Pence was the last point of resistance to an election that they all believed to have been stolen, yet here was Pence abdicating. Chants of “hang Mike Pence” rippled through the angry crowd. In an indictment obtained against members of the far-right group the Oath Keepers, the Justice Department alleges that Pence's decision was poorly received by the group that would soon push into the Capitol wearing military gear.
“Pence has punked out,” one allegedly wrote. “We are screwed.”
The process of counting the electoral votes was underway when the first window was broken at the Capitol. Pence and other officials were evacuated from the Senate chamber, pulled across a short hallway into another room. Seconds later, members of the mob arrived at the end of that hallway before being diverted by a Capitol Police officer away from where the vice president had been taken.
Ten minutes later, right after Trump's tweet blaming Pence for the collapse of his impossible strategy, Pence — and his family, who were also there — were again moved, deeper into the Capitol complex.
At no point, it seems, did Trump call Pence to check on his whereabouts or his safety.
It wasn’t until 8 p.m. that the Capitol was secured and the counting of the votes resumed. In the intervening period, Trump had repeatedly expressed his tacit approval for the mob’s actions, in tweets and in a video.
“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” he tweeted at about 6 p.m. “Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!”
Upon returning to the chamber, Pence gave a brief speech.
“We condemn the violence that took place here in the strongest possible terms,” he said after thanking law enforcement. “To those who wreaked havoc in our Capitol today, you did not win,” he later added. “Violence never wins. Freedom wins.”
Those two responses — what a great day vs. what a horrible day — encapsulate the Trump-vs.-the-world view of the attack at the Capitol. The problem for Pence is that the voters he would need to win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination exist in the Trump space, the worldview in which the mob that would certainly have physically attacked Pence had they found him that day were the ones who were on the right side of history.
It is politically problematic for Pence to condemn the people who hoped to murder him, so he treats it as simply one small point of disagreement with a president who he'd otherwise loyally served.
His hope, really, is that he can use his experience in bridging that divide as a way to build a coalition. He hopes that he can tamp down the remaining static from Trump's base over his failure to illegally hand Trump the election while pitching the establishment on the idea that he knows how to corral that same group of voters.
The problem with that strategy is that there's no way for him to repair the damage done on that day. Trump said he would do something he couldn't and Trump then casually blamed Pence for the entire Biden presidency. What's more, as the New York Times's Maggie Haberman reports, Trump is still bashing Pence to his allies and aides. The only way Pence could be absolved of his Jan. 6 sins would be to receive Trump's blessing — a blessing that Trump wouldn't offer even if he weren't actively thinking about running again in three years.
Pence has nothing else to work with, so he works with what he’s got.