The fate of a healthy Democracy does not come down to a phone call with Dan Quayle. But, well, here we are.
According to an upcoming book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, in the final days of Trump’s presidency, then-Vice President Mike Pence was struggling to decide whether to honor the votes of the American people or to refuse to certify Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump and set off an unprecedented constitutional crisis.
The authors write that Pence sought advice from Dan Quayle, the only living Republican vice president who had been in the position of certifying an election where his ticket was the losing one. And it was Quayle — the same man who has been something of a national punchline for a decade — who talked Pence off the ledge and into doing the right thing.
Trump at the time was frantically trying to find a way to cling to power. He was spreading lies that rampant election fraud took place, pushing election officials in Georgia to undermine their state’s results and pushing the Justice Department to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the [Republican] congressmen.” And he was privately and publicly pressuring Pence.
During their conversation, Quayle said Pence had no wiggle room and told him to certify the election results. “Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away,” Quayle told him.
“I know, that’s what I’ve been trying to tell Trump,” Pence responded. “But he really thinks he can. And there are other guys in there saying I’ve got this power.”
Pence then brought up Trump’s allegations of voter fraud and the lawsuits filed by Trump supporters in Arizona attempting to decertify Biden as the winner in the state. “Well, there’s some stuff out in Arizona,” Pence said to Quayle, who immediately shot him down.
“Mike, I live in Arizona,” Quayle said. “There’s nothing out here.”
The book also reveals that Trump ally and former White House senior strategist Steve Bannon was fueling the president’s delusions. According to the authors, Bannon told Trump on December 30th that he and Pence needed to return to D.C. immediately to prepare to “bury Biden” during “the moment for reckoning” on January 6th.
“You’ve got to return to Washington and make a dramatic return today. You’ve got to call Pence off the fucking ski slopes and get him back here today. This is a crisis,” Bannon told the president. “People are going to go, ‘What the fuck is going on here?'” Bannon added. “We’re going to bury Biden on January 6th, fucking bury him.”
After Pence’s call to Quayle, he spoke with Trump in the Oval Office on January 5th — the day before the election certification and Capitol attack — and refused Trump’s orders to stop the certification process. Already, the president’s supporters were gathered in front of the White House. Referring to the protesters, Trump asked Pence: “If these people say you had the power, wouldn’t you want to?”
“I wouldn’t want any one person to have that authority,” Pence said.
To this, Trump replied, “But wouldn’t it be almost cool to have that power?”
“No,” Pence said, according to the book. “I’ve done everything I could and then some to find a way around this. It’s simply not possible.”
It was then, the authors say, Trump began to shout. “No, no, no! You don’t understand, Mike. You can do this. I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this,” said Trump, who, by chronology, is an adult.
Trump’s anger continued into the next morning when he called Pence to again apply pressure. “If you don’t do it, I picked the wrong man four years ago,” Trump said, then added, angrily and defeatedly, “You’re going to wimp out.”
According to the book, Pence wasn’t the only person in the White House who was desperately trying to contain Trump as he became increasingly unhinged after the election. Gen. Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was also scrambling trying to prevent a nuclear war because he was worried the president would “go rogue” and launch nuclear weapons at China unprovoked.
On some level, Pence deserves credit for ultimately doing the right thing, even if it meant not getting to be Trump’s BFF4eva. On another level, it’s rough that he had to chew it over with anyone. Pence’s early career had an awful lot of talk about being a “constitutional conservative,” and we’re pretty sure there’s nothing in the Constitution that says the losing candidate gets to stay in office if he really, really wants to.