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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: Trump treatment of Pence highlights character issues

Updated August 31, 2023 - 9:00 pm

What makes someone qualified to be president of the United States? The answer depends on who you’re backing.

Consider the sharp-elbowed contest for the 2024 GOP nomination.

If you support former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, you might say that fluency in foreign policy is essential — especially at a time when the world is so dangerous.

If you back Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who is known for his affability, you might counter that likability is what really carries the day — especially given that so many elected officials lack that quality.

If you prefer Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — who graduated from Yale and Harvard, served in the military and did a stint in Congress — you might say being qualified for the White House starts with a good résumé.

That’s all wrong. The most important issue in this presidential election is character. Unfortunately for former President Donald Trump, who leads the GOP field, he doesn’t seem to have any.

Americans can argue about whether Trump was a good president or whether another term in the White House might be good for the country. But anyone paying attention to how badly Trump treats people who loyally stood by his side can see that he’s simply not a good person.

Trump’s supporters take his moral failings too lightly, and some of them actually make fun of the idea that his “mean tweets” may have hurt people’s feelings. But there’s something wrong with an individual who demands loyalty from others but seems incapable of reciprocating.

Politics is a nasty business, and so I never expected Trump to be nice to Democrats who were trying to derail him. The shocking part was how ready he was to attack fellow Republicans who were trying to serve him, including some of his own Cabinet members and former chiefs of staff. One minute Trump was bragging about how he chose the best people. The next, he was telling us these same people were no good.

Just look at the despicable way Trump is treating the man who once stood by his side as his No. 2.

Former Vice President Mike Pence was already on thin ice with Trump, dating to Jan. 6, 2021, when Pence refused to throw out the results of the 2020 election after it became clear that Trump had lost.

Trump’s supporters continue to believe that Pence had the absolute authority to brush aside the will of the people and toss the election outcome to the state legislatures.

That’s insane. Pence has repeatedly said as much on the campaign trail whenever he has been harangued by a MAGA supporter who blames him for putting Joe Biden in the White House. As vice president, Pence had merely a ceremonial role to oversee the certification of Electoral College votes by Congress.

Still, Trump reportedly told advisers that he would win the election if Pence did “the right thing.” And, as Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, many chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.” Along with lawmakers, Pence and members of his family had to be ushered to safety.

More recently, as the Trump indictments have piled up, Pence — who is now running against his former boss — has piled on.

Pence asserts that Trump’s attempt to trample the Constitution should disqualify him from the presidency. His campaign is even selling merchandise with the phrase “Too Honest” — which Trump used as a criticism of his vice president, according to the one of the indictments — to cement the Pence brand as incorruptible.

It was all too much for Trump to take, and so he took to Truth Social.

“WOW, it’s finally happened! Liddle’ Mike Pence, a man who was about to be ousted as Governor Indiana until I came along and made him V.P., has gone to the Dark Side,” Trump recently wrote on the site. “I never told a newly emboldened (not based on his 2% poll numbers!) Pence to put me above the Constitution, or that Mike was ‘too honest.’ He’s delusional, and now he wants to show he’s a tough guy. I once read a major magazine article on Mike. It said he was not a very good person. I was surprised, but the article was right. Sad!”

This is the same Trump who, in July 2016, just before he announced that Pence would be his running mate, said that the Hoosier had done “a great job as governor of Indiana. … He’s done really a fantastic job.”

This is bad form and bad optics. It’s also more evidence that Trump is a bad guy.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is crimscribe@icloud.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.

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