The necessity of plexiglass at the 2020 vice presidential debate tonight should have been enough to disqualify Vice President Mike Pence—who, recall, also serves as the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force chairman—from a second term. But just as he has done throughout the last four years, from the moment he joined the ticket with Donald Trump, Pence soldiered on with his phony act.
In the debate tonight with Senator Kamala Harris, Pence projected concern. Instead of providing straightforward answers about his record, he deflected—thrusting responsibility on the American people, saying he trusted them to “make choices in the best interest of their health.” Pence thanked supporters for their prayers for the president, who hours earlier said, bizarrely, that it was a “blessing from God” that he contracted coronavirus.
At first glance, Pence’s performance seemed merely absurd. But it’s far more disturbing when you consider the space Pence occupies.
He’s been an active participant in the rise and spread of coronavirus. The Trump-Pence ticket has toured the country and packed people into rallies. The Republican National Committee held the White House lawn convention, breaking norms and health recommendations with abandon. He clapped along like everyone else at the superspreader event for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. He’s not quarantining—in fact, he’s planning a MAGA event at the Villages in Florida this weekend.
The horrific death toll hasn’t stopped him, not one bit. Pence remains unfazed.
How can he be so numb?
Well, it took practice.
To become vice president, Pence—who had been the kind of Republican who preached about morality and virtue—looked past all Trump’s sordid scandals and sleazy smears. For the past four years, he has dutifully played the role of the suited Stepford man, nodding along pleasantly during Trump’s unhinged speeches. He stood by Trump’s side as Muslims were banned, as children were separated from their parents, as white supremacists were elevated, as peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square were tear-gassed.
So it wasn’t hard for Pence not to blink when confronted with the wretched death toll of 210,000 dead from COVID. He is accustomed to such things by now. Nothing can shock him. Nothing can move him.
In a way, this demonstrates the depth of the problem we face: Even if Trump loses by a massive margin in November, Mike Pence will still be hanging around on the periphery, trying to position himself to run for the presidency himself. Looking back on the wreckage of the last four years, some people have suggested the creation of something like a truth and reconciliation commission. That’s not likely, for any number of reasons, but we do need at least to find a way to ask this hard question: How can we allow people—like Pence—who were responsible for our egregious COVID death toll to continue in public life?
His tenure is indefensible.
Mike Pence shouldn’t have even been at the debate tonight. A good man would have resigned already. But Trump’s White House is no place for good men and Mike Pence still wants to be in it.