Editorial: Pence calls out Trump, but will it matter to voters?

Former Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday issued his most forceful criticism yet of his former boss for what became the Jan. 6 insurrection.

We applaud the Columbus native for at last saying this: “President Trump was wrong. … 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.”

Reasonable people who witnessed Jan. 6 unfolding in real time already hold Trump accountable for the most violent political bloodshed in our nation’s capital since British invaders torched Washington during the War of 1812. Pence, having been Trump’s VP, had been reluctant to blame his ex-boss, who betrayed Pence and our constitutional order.

Reasonable people also believe that Pence is running for president now. He hasn’t formally announced, but Pence wrote a memoir. He is touring and shaking hands in the early campaign states of Iowa and New Hampshire. He delivered the remarks above to the National Press Club at the storied white-tie Gridiron Dinner in Washington.

And he is distancing himself from Trump.

This shows Pence understands that his potential appeal to Republican voters with Trump fatigue might include operating in the fact-based world. Pence also said this about the events of Jan. 6: “Make no mistake about it, what happened that day was a disgrace. … And it mocks decency to portray it any other way.”

Without saying so, Pence is talking about Tucker Carlson, the two-faced Fox News propagandist who shamefully lies, recasting Jan. 6 as just Capitol sightseers who took a wrong turn.

We get the impression from Pence’s remarks, and their timing and venue, that he understands the gravity of the maelstrom that he — and our democracy — survived. Insurrectionists who had erected gallows for Pence outside the Capitol came within mere feet of him after he and members of Congress fled a mob fueled by Trump.

We hope Pence realizes how differently things could have turned that day, and we also again encourage him to testify in full to Jan. 6 special counsel Jack Smith. Pence is fighting Smith’s subpoena, but Pence’s legacy — and the facts of Jan. 6 — would be better served if he willingly answered questions under oath.

Trump has announced he is running for the Republican presidential nomination, as has former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also is widely believed to be preparing to run, as are several others in the GOP.

Pence has a golden opportunity in this climate to potentially appeal to a great number of voters by being forthright and speaking the truth — including to the special counsel. Doing so, Pence would unapologetically take a bold stand for bedrock traditional conservative values.

Some of those, before the Trump era, used to include integrity, responsibility, honor, and respect for the rule of law.

If Pence boldly stands for these principles and speaks the truth about those who organized and instigated the Jan. 6 insurrection — and those who continue to minimize it — he just might appeal to Republican primary voters who, after Trump, crave these values.

And if voters don’t respond, at least Pence would be able to say he did the right thing.