Opinion | Mike Pence Spoke, and the Response Was a Kind of Subtle Hell

And in books, committee depositions and now in this latest indictment, the months after the 2020 election sound especially abysmal — a White House ghost town deserted by people tired of dealing with Mr. Trump and his break with reality about the election’s outcome. They left behind a few panicked people who remained grounded in reality, like the former White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Mr. Pence, and then Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and the rest. Again and again, people describe desperate circumstances, arguments about doing things like seizing the voting machines and trying to persuade Mr. Trump to call off the riot. According to prosecutors, at 7:01 p.m. on Jan. 6, Mr. Cipollone called Mr. Trump and asked him to withdraw his objections to certification; Mr. Trump refused. Would there be more Clarks or Cipollones in a future administration?

The idea for many around Mr. Trump is to use a second administration as a path to clearing out parts of the government and reorganizing it around a stronger executive, with true believers underneath him. Jonathan Swan has written extensively about those plans, most recently in an article about the expansive efforts Trump allies want to undertake, like placing the Federal Trade Commission under presidential control, or using Schedule F to fire federal employees. The idea for the next term, in Mr. Trump’s telling, is also retribution.

This only ups the anxiety around, basically, who might be involved in such an administration and what the broader American public would tolerate from them. In his book, “Why We Did It,” Tim Miller debates this question with Alyssa Farah Griffin, a former White House communications official. “Governing is happening under him whether we want it to be or not,” she argues, citing the prospect of whatever goon would serve instead of her, which Mr. Miller concedes is true. But, he counters: “This logic is circular. It justifies anything! Alyssa was a flack; she wasn’t securing loose nukes.” She counters again, ticking off different things people had talked Mr. Trump out of: invoking the Insurrection Act during the George Floyd protests or firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

In these circumstances, the line between “responsible influence, working to contain the worst impulses in private” and “passive bystander” and “amoral chump” is difficult to discern.

Mr. Pence’s experience highlights the dangers for the individual and the public. In his book, Mr. Esper describes the way Mr. Pence represented a sane, normal presence in meetings. But, Mr. Esper writes, he could never discern how much their boss even considered the vice president’s views: “He was part cheerleader and part sounding board, though I could never tell how much influence he really had with Trump. He often didn’t say much in meetings that the president attended, and he rarely disagreed with Trump in front of us.”

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