Pence support for election deniers raises question of where GOP stands on 2020 lies

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As he lines up a possible bid for the White House in 2024, former Vice President Mike Pence is campaigning with the strangest of political bedfellows, throwing his name and his money behind candidates who supported the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection that put the Indiana Republican’s life in danger.

On Wednesday, Pence raised money for a former aide now running for Indiana’s secretary of state, who called the 2020 election a “scam.” On Thursday, Pence will headline a fundraiser for one of the fake electors enlisted by Donald Trump and his allies in Georgia. And Pence has recently given his endorsement to top Republican candidates in New Hampshire and Arizona, despite their prior support for Trump’s 2020 election lie.

Former Vice President Mike Pence
Former Vice President Mike Pence greets guests at a lunch in Waverly, Iowa, Aug. 20. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

To Pence’s critics, the former vice president is stunningly craven to flirt with an issue that almost got him killed on Jan. 6. But to his supporters, the longtime Republican is deftly navigating the reality of the current Republican Party, split between multiple factions, and keeping the party from going completely off the rails.

Asked by CBS News earlier in October if Pence was supporting candidates “who denied the 2020 election results,” longtime Pence adviser Marc Short replied, “I guess that depends on your definition of denying the election results.”

“If you look to his letter to the American people back on Jan. 6, what he wrote is to say that it is Congress’s right to object, that is what the Electoral Count Act provided for,” Short said. “So again there have been Republican and Democrat objections to the last four elections, and he believes that was their right, even if he doesn’t agree with them on that particular vote.”

The fraught political dynamic for Pence, which includes a potential run against Trump himself, comes into stark relief again on Thursday as the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol holds what is likely to be its final hearing.

Pence’s top aides and advisers, including Short, provided House investigators many of their most stunning findings in the historic probe. But Pence, despite teasing a possible interview with the panel, looks likely to avoid providing any information himself.

Marc Short
Marc Short, adviser and former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“Mike Pence is trying to have it both ways — he can’t claim credit for doing his constitutionally required duty while boosting extreme election deniers who wanted to overturn an election and subvert the will of 81 million Americans,” Democratic National Committee spokesperson Ammar Moussa told Yahoo News.

Instead, Pence has cut a careful path on the campaign trail, supporting Republicans across the country in battles for the Senate, the House and governor. He has, in some high-profile contests, split with Trump and endorsed some of the Republicans who enraged the former president the most.

But more often, Pence has carefully lined up his endorsements for Republicans most likely to win, regardless of whether they supported or still support the election lie.

On Thursday, the same day as what could be the final Jan. 6 committee hearing, Pence was scheduled to host a fundraiser for one of the fake electors, Georgia state Sen. Burt Jones, who is running for lieutenant governor. Jones, for his part, has sidestepped saying whether he believes that Trump lost the election.

In Arizona, Trump-backed Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters previously touted Trump’s election lie, but in a debate last week with incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly, Masters said he found no evidence the 2020 election was rigged and acknowledged Biden as president. A few days later, Pence endorsed Masters at a campaign event in Arizona. Pence did not endorse Kari Lake, who is widely considered a successor to Trump both in tone and in her embrace of conspiracy theories.

Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters with Donald Trump
Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters and Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Mesa, Ariz., Oct. 9. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Pence aides declined to comment for this story.

Pence’s own comments around Jan. 6, which saw pro-Trump rioters and militia members come within 40 feet of attacking him and his family, have been reserved and reticent — alternating between calling the insurrection “a tragic day” and, in a tease of his forthcoming memoir, saying only that he was “angry” that day.

Over the summer, Pence said he might testify before the House Jan. 6 committee, but he seems to have run out the clock on that possibility. The former vice president is expected to formally announce shortly after the new year whether he will seek the presidency.