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GOP grapples with post-Trump, post-Jan. 6 fallout

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BRIAN HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS – When Donald Trump sent out a tweet in July 2016 saying that Mike Pence would join him on the Republican ticket, it commenced one of the most extraordinary political odd couples in history. Here was the evangelistic, conservative Midwestern governor linking up with the profane, Manhattan billionaire.

Friends of Mike and Karen Pence warned them of the risks in joining the volatile Trump, whose personal history is littered with spoiled professional and personal relationships, with many ending with either “You’re fired” or in a legal suit.

No one could have predicted that the eventual rupture between President Trump and Vice President Pence would end in a literal life or death scenario. But when Trump unleashed his mob of insurrectionist supporters on the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, that’s what occurred.

According to video and testimony heard during Trump’s unprecedented second impeachment trial this week, the president’s mob was just seconds and steps away from the vice president, wife Karen and daughter, security video revealed. A bloodthirsty crowd was seeking revenge after being goaded by President Trump into attempting to subvert the congressional certification of the Electoral College vote.

U.S. Rep. Stacey Plaskett, one of the House impeachment managers, stated, “Anyone they got their hands on, they would have killed, including Nancy Pelosi, and they would have killed Mike Pence if they had gotten the chance.’ They were talking about assassinating the vice president of the United States.”

Pence was presiding over the Electoral College vote count in the Senate chambers when at 2:26 p.m. Secret Service ordered him into a secure bunker, some 14 minutes after the mob breached the Capitol. “As Pence was being evacuated, rioters began to spread throughout the Capitol. … And the mob was looking for Vice President Pence because of his patriotism, because the vice president refused to do what the president demanded and overturn the election results,” Plaskett said.

Two minutes before, President Trump, who was glued to his White House TV, tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, 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!”

“Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!” the crowd could be heard chanting. Outside the Capitol, where a gallows had been set up, others cried, “Bring out Pence!”

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Fox News host Chris Wallace says there is now “residual bitterness” between Pence and Trump. “Donald Trump never called Mike Pence when he was in the bunker inside the Capitol, to ask him if he was safe, to inquire about his safety, nor did he ever urge the people who were storming the Capitol to stand down and not to go after Mike Pence,” Wallace said. He quoted Pence aides who cited his unflinching loyalty to his boss and now saw this rupture as the “ultimate betrayal.”

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Va. and one of the House impeachment managers, made the case that impeaching an ex-president was constitutional. He said that there should be no “January exemption” for a president attempting to steal an election, which he said is what Trump was attempting to do. Raskin said Trump was responsible for the historic Capitol assault that killed five people. “You ask what a high crime and misdemeanor is under our Constitution? That’s a high crime and misdemeanor,” Raskin said. “If that’s not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing.”

Indiana Republican National Committeeman John Hammond III was effusive in his praise for how Vice President Pence handled himself in the final weeks of the Trump administration. “I couldn’t have been prouder of Mike Pence to rise above all of this,” Hammond said. “He did what every vice president had to do, to hold his oath of office and his allegiance to the Constitution and the republic. Mike Pence, I think you can say, saved the republic.”

As for where the GOP goes from here, Hammond said, “The Republican Party will continue to be, as it has been since 1854, a party of ideas and conservative principles that a large segment of America should be able to gather under. No more cult of personality. No more big lies. No more looney conspiracy theories. We should cull those things out and move forward. There will be tensions as we come out of this period of time as we pivot back toward the party of ideas and purpose, but that’s where we’re headed.”

Indiana Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer, who was appointed as RNC general counsel earlier this month, acknowledged the GOP is grappling with the fallout from the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. “We are having a debate within the party,” he said in a Zoom call on Monday. “There is obviously a spectrum of ideas within the party. There are obviously some that are unacceptable to the party. There are some things that are unacceptable anywhere, such as storming the U.S. Capitol Building.

“We need to focus on what our ideals are inside the party,” Hupfer continued. “That’s where we always come back to our conservative principles: Fiscal policy like we have here in Indiana; the protection of our rights such as the right to bear arms, protection of life.”

Including that of the vice president.