Mike Pence shows the world that Washington is a bunch of cheap dates

Even more than humor, this gathering of Washington worthies seemed enamored with the moral seriousness of its critics of Trump.

“His reckless words endangered my family and everyone on Capitol Hill that day, and I know history will hold Donald Trump accountable,” Pence had said, before displaying his own toughness on January 6 to flatter the public. Beltway media: “We were able to stay on duty, in part because you stayed on duty. The American people know what happened that day because you never stopped reporting .

He destroyed the house.

It also demonstrated again that Washington in 2023 is a cheap date.

How else to explain the rapture of a speech whose main line of applause — “The American people have a right to know what happened on Capitol Hill” — is undermined by Pence’s own ongoing legal efforts to avoid to testify?

It doesn’t take anything away from people reporting the political implications of the speech in 2024. It’s really news that the man once known for his abject loyalty has taken on a new virtuous fighting posture that has so far eluded d former administration stalwarts like Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo.

But at the same time, the glow in the Omni Shoreham Hotel ballroom said perhaps less about Pence than about his audience, a collection of journalists, dignitaries, eminences and backpackers gathered for one of the great rituals of an endangered bipartisan. social calendar — part of a larger declining Washington whose gatekeepers may seem grateful when a Republican just shows up.

This feeling of being in danger, I suppose, has a lot to do with the immediate inclination to see the best in Pence’s speech.

The 2023 status quo where ambitious Republicans shun the Beltway insider is a real threat to Washington’s enduring bipartisan sense. It almost guarantees that someone like Pence — not a RINO, but a true conservative believer — has to jump a surprisingly low hurdle to earn praise.

Sometimes all you have to do is show that you’re ready to play ball – that is, to do things as normal as showing up in the lore of the capital, making funny remarks. self-mockery and to note that an attempt to overthrow a democratic election by force actually happened (and was wrong). The sugar rush of seeing someone gracefully join the ranks quickly overwhelms any skepticism.

How old-school and friendly is the annual affair honored by the ex-veep? At least one of Pence’s self-deprecating one-liners took a circuitous route to his script via former Biden speechwriter Jeff Nussbaum.

Nussbaum declined to comment, and Landon Parvin, a veteran of many Gridirons who helped Pence’s team, admitted that “most speakers would steal a line from a dead man.” But the kind of cross-aisle riffing among professional wordsmiths that leads to the core of a Democrat’s joke that winds up in a Republican’s stand-up routine is the kind of thing that seems quite up on a night when people dress in white ties watching comedy song and dance routines before singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and toasting the president – and looks quite out of place no anywhere else in 2023.

Even when politics reappeared this week – the The White House denigrated the Buttigieg gag as homophobic; Twitter piled up — nothing undermined the idea that Pence had done something brave and honorable when he punched Trump around Jan. 6 in front of an elite Beltway audience.

I don’t disagree with anything Pence has said regarding Jan. 6, but the platitudes seem a bit too much. Yes, Pence did the right thing, in the face of real danger, regarding the right of Americans to choose their government without insurgent interference. On the question of our right to know what happened that day, however, his record is far less admirable.

Even as he enjoyed the approval of the white-tie crowd, Pence’s lawyers were fighting a subpoena to testify about Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election – something he has vowed to go up to. ‘to the Supreme Court to prevent. The logic of Pence’s argument is that, in his constitutional role as President of the United States Senate, he was protected by the Speech and Debate Clause of the Constitution. He said it was to protect the legislative branch from the executive. At a press event, he called the effort to get his testimony “Biden DOJ Subpoenathe kind of slam which divides professional prosecutors that official Washington generally hates.

The courts will decide whether this argument holds. But you don’t have to be a constitutional scholar to know that this legalistic stuff isn’t the posturing of a man who is determined to shed light on every detail of that horrible day in order to prevent it from happening again. If nothing else, it’s incongruous with the stark, almost martial language of duty that Pence used when he spoke of having to “stay at our post” in the face of grave danger.

I’ve heard a bunch of theories about why Pence is fighting the subpoena. Whoever is more forgiving — and at the same time more cynical — is that he expects to lose, and the public spectacle of not looking like an anti-Trumper chomping at the bit to testify will make him more believable once that he will, perhaps to jurors (that’s the lenient version) and almost certainly to Republican primary voters (there’s the cynical).

While it works brilliantly, it also looks like a man who wants to play it both ways.

Which brings us back to the white-robed crowd at the Gridiron, an audience that included senators, governors, generals, cabinet secretaries and heads of international institutions. It’s a slice of Washington that’s keen to feel bipartisan, with balanced displays of Democratic and Republican gags, topped with retro homages to things we have in common (color presentation by a military band; toast to the president).

What it did not include, this year, was any incumbent GOP member of the House or Senate.

The only incumbent GOP elected official was last year’s Republican president, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, whose own star turn at the 2022 dinner party involved a much more comedic skewer of Trump — and who has also benefited from the willingness of the establishment to accommodate a conservative who will join in traditional pastimes and sometimes strike right.

We have entered a time in our country where the political logic within one of our two political parties is to steer clear of officially non-partisan legacy institutions, from media to culture. Top GOP politicians like Ron DeSantis limit their media appearances to conservative outlets, even canceling Sunday shows that were once derided as milquetoast. The incentive structure of Republican politics encourages candidates to dissociate American institutions from Disney to the NFL for allegedly being caught by the wokes. A night out with Washington elites dressed as 1920s butlers isn’t exactly a surefire political winner. (Fortunately, this takes place off-camera.)

We’ll know soon enough whether this separation will matter when it comes to a general election where you have to win votes from people outside the conservative culture. Once exposed to mainstream platforms, could a GOP candidate present himself as a boxer who hasn’t had enough advanced fight training?

But I think we’re already seeing the impact among people who exist in mainstream institutions who rely on being seen as bipartisan. We too lack practice, easily seduced by a minimum of bonhomie.

It’s pretty clear, by the way, that Pence’s team knew that too. Advisor Pence Marc Short told my colleague Adam Wren this weekend that they believed appearance would improve the disposition of a political elite who had already struck off the former vice president. “It was a different audience for him,” Short said.

Of course, there’s always a bar for humor, says Parvin, a 40-year veteran of Gridiron routines: “You live or die by the joke.”

“Pence received a standing ovation, which tells me that people want to feel better about each other and get life back to normal,” he told me this week via email. “Humor can help do that.”


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