Every villain story also needs a hero, and Democrats investigating last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol have found a most unlikely one: former Vice President Mike Pence.
Members of the House Jan. 6 committee say Mr. Pence, in refusing to bow to President Trump’s demand to overturn the election, did nothing less than save American democracy.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, chair of the panel, said the country was “fortunate” to have Mr. Pence in place that day. Rep. Pete Aguilar said the vice president braved Mr. Trump’s ire and “did the right thing.”
For a party that had little good to say about Mr. Pence, getting the Superman treatment for standing up to Mr. Trump, Democrats’ praise is striking.
“He is the enemy of their enemy and, therefore, he is their friend, which means everything else is forgotten until he runs for political office in which case he will become the enemy again, and no one loves him,” said Steve Mitchell, a GOP strategist.
It’s tough to imagine Democrats’ praise is helping Mr. Pence, who has designs on the GOP’s presidential nomination in 2024.
Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist, said the payoff for Mr. Pence will be historical — not political.
“There is no center anymore in politics so it is hard to envision Democrats standing up and saying Mike Pence should be the next president and it is hard to see Republicans on the far-right say he should be president,” Mr. Sheinkopf said. “He will be forever remembered as someone who had the courage to stand up at a time of great violence and when his life was in danger.”
“The Trumpers,” he said, “are never going to change their opinion and will threaten his life probably should he run for president.”
According to the committee, Mr. Pence hid in a parking garage to avoid the mob of Trump supporters that invaded the Capitol, disrupting the counting of electoral votes. At one point, Mr. Pence was within a few dozen feet of crossing paths with the mob.
It’s unclear what Mr. Pence thinks of his star turn. He has not been called to testify. He has instead been focused on strengthening the bond between traditional conservative thinking and the Make America Great Again movement.
On Thursday, he was in Ohio raising money on behalf of Gov. Mike DeWine and Rep. Steve Chabot, who is running in a competitive reelection race.
“Mike Pence has been a constitutional conservative for more than three decades, so while it doesn’t hurt for people to recognize courage no matter what party, it’s also nice to see Democrats come around to the idea of upholding the Constitution,” said Pence spokesman Devin O’Malley.
An Economist/YouGov poll taken June 11-14, before the Thursday hearing that celebrated Mr. Pence, found his overall approval rating underwater, with 49% of adults holding an unfavorable view, compared to 38% who saw him favorably.
Among Republicans, 64% had a positive view, but among Democrats it was less than 25%, suggesting party leaders’ praise in recent weeks had yet to sink in.
Not too long ago, Democrats lampooned Mr. Pence as old-fashioned, chuckling about his policy of never eating alone with a woman who isn’t his wife, and his revelation that he feels uncomfortable about attending events where alcohol is served unless his wife is there.
Mr. Pence is the latest figure from the Trump era to turn from heel to hero.
Others include former FBI Director James B. Comey, who in 2016 tripped up Hillary Clinton’s presidential run with revelations about her use of a secret email server to send classified material. Calls to fire him quickly changed to demands that he be kept at all costs after Mr. Comey turned his investigative attention to Mr. Trump.
Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, also ended up as a star witness for Democrats during an earlier set of anti-Trump hearings.
He said he broke the law on several occasions and lied about it because Mr. Trump told him to do so.