Trump indictment renews tensions between Pence and the former president

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On Tuesday, after the Justice Department issued a new criminal indictment of former President Donald Trump, his vice president, Mike Pence, issued a stern rebuke of his former running mate.

“Today's indictment serves as an important reminder: Anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be president of the United States," Pence said in a written statement, adding, "On January 6th, former President Trump demanded that I choose between him and the Constitution. I chose the Constitution and I always will."

Special counsel Jack Smith's indictment of Trump relied on testimony from Pence himself, after a federal judge compelled Pence to testify before the federal grand jury. It also added new details on the acrimonious relationship between the former vice president and Trump that unfolded at the end of a four-year term marked by steadfast expressions of loyalty on Pence's part.

"You're too honest," Trump told Pence in a phone conversation on Jan. 1, 2021, after Pence had told him there was no constitutional basis for him to reject the Electoral College votes showing that Joe Biden had won the 2020 election.

Trump returns fire

Former President Donald Trump and his vice president, Mike Pence.
Former President Donald Trump and his vice president, Mike Pence. (Photos: Jeff Swensen/Getty Images, Sergio Flores/AFP via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Trump vented his frustration over Pence's testimony and his statement reacting to the indictment. In a post on Truth Social about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, he slipped in a jab at his former vice president.

"Like Mike Pence, who I took from a flawed and failing gubernatorial re-elect campaign in the Great State of Indiana to make my V.P., Ron is a very disloyal guy who has taken bad advice!" Trump wrote.

Later in the day, he hit Pence once again.

"I feel badly for Mike Pence, who is attracting no crowds, enthusiasm, or loyalty from people who, as a member of the Trump Administration, should be loving him," Trump wrote, adding that Pence "didn't fight against Election Fraud."

Lingering resentment

Donald Trump gives a speech.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a political rally Saturday in Erie, Pa., campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

In the wake of the Jan. 6 attack and Trump's second impeachment trial, a period of relative quiet ensued between Pence and the former president. But Trump had not abandoned his bogus claims that voter fraud had cost him the election, nor his belief that Pence had betrayed him when he denied Trump's request that he refuse to certify the Electoral College results.

In a June of 2022 speech at the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual Road to Majority conference, Trump unloaded on Pence.

“Mike Pence had a chance to be great. He had a chance to be historic. Mike did not have the courage to act,” he said, adding, “Mike was afraid of whatever he was afraid of.”

Pence the candidate

Mike Pence looks down and bites his lip.
Former Vice President and 2024 Republican presidential hopeful Mike Pence addresses the GOP Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday last week. (Sergio Flores/AFP via Getty Images)

Despite enduring that attack, as well as the lingering echo of Trump's supporters chanting "Hang Mike Pence!" as they attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to try to prevent Pence from certifying the 2020 election, the former vice president remained mostly quiet about those events until he delivered a speech in March at the Gridiron Dinner in Washington, D.C.

“President Trump was wrong,” he said. "I had no right to overturn the election. And his reckless words endangered my family and everyone at the Capitol that day, and I know history will hold Donald Trump accountable.”

By the time he announced his candidacy for president on June 7, Pence had fine-tuned how he would speak about Trump's role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“I believe anyone that puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States, and anyone who asks someone else to put them over the Constitution should never be president of the United States again," the former vice president said.

Trump's party

Donald Trump in blue suit, red tie and white shirt, points at his supporters arrayed on the bleachers around him.
Donald Trump arrives for a campaign rally on Saturday in Erie, Pa. (Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo)

Yet with each new criminal indictment, Trump's support among Republicans only seems to grow. And while Pence continues to take credit for the Trump administration's agenda, such as its opposition to abortion, he continues to walk a fine line when courting Trump voters in the Republican primary.

On Wednesday, at a campaign event in Indianapolis, he was asked by Fox News about a new poll showing that 71% of Republicans believe they need to stand behind Trump. His answer, while focusing on what he characterized as the "disastrous presidency of Joe Biden," was effectively another dig at Trump, refusing to give his former boss any credit for his enduring support.

At the same event, however, Pence also got more specific about Trump's actions, saying that "what the president maintained" about his vice president's ability to refuse to certify the Electoral College count was "completely false."

"Sadly, the president was surrounded by a group of crackpot lawyers that kept telling him what his itching ears wanted to hear," Pence added.