Until Tuesday, it seemed that Vice President Pence had one primary function within the Trump administration: to be morally offended by everything. There was the time that he walked out of an NFL game because some players took a knee while the national anthem was played.Last month “the vice president walked out of the Summit of the Americas when Cuba’s foreign minister was recognized to speak after him,” according to the Associated Press.
Pence has demonstrated his ability to register his moral disapproval even when he does not leave an event. This was the case at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics, when he refused to stand as the unified Korean team entered the stadium.
Pence’s defenders would argue that being rude to dignitaries from North Korea and Cuba just shows how righteous he really is. His brand is as a man of serious moral values who can serve as Trump’s envoy to people of faith. Pence’s presence in the White House has been a boon for the religious right. Evangelical leaders across the country point to his record on abortion and religious freedom and liken him to a prophet restoring conservative Christianity to its rightful place at the center of American life.So it is worth noting what Pence, the Trump administration’s righteous man, did in Arizona on Tuesday. . . . . Pence praised former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of contempt of court, as a “tireless champion of … the rule of law” during an event in Arizona on Tuesday.
Pence said at the tax event that he was “honored” by the former sheriff’s attendance, and called Arpaio a “great friend of this president and tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law,” to cheers from the crowd.
Needless to say, most observers do not view Joe Arpaio as a real big fan of the rule of law. Indeed, Arpaio probably would have fit right into either the Cuban or North Korean regimes.It is not just Arpaio’s victims who feel moral outage. The National Review editorialized in January: Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt last summer for willfully violating a federal court order. Specifically, he was convicted of violating an order that he cease arresting and detaining people for whom there was no plausible criminal charge — i.e., the court asked him, pretty please, to stop detaining Mexicans for publicity purposes.But Sheriff Joe has a thing for arresting people who haven’t committed any crime. He arrested a Republican critic — the county supervisor — on trumped-up charges in 2008 and ended up handing over $3.5 million of taxpayers’ money in a wrongful-arrest settlement.Red State’s Sarah Quinlan offers up a detailed list of Arpaio’s abuses of the rule of law while he was the former sheriff, concluding: “Nothing about Sheriff Joe Arpaio resembles any sort of justice or law and order under the United States Constitution, and it is disgraceful for Pence to pretend otherwise.”
Note who I’m quoting here. These are conservative outlets one would expect to be in lockstep with a good Christian conservative like Pence. But they are appalled — and they are not the only conservatives to react this way. In these politically polarized times, Mike Pence has managed to appall just about everyone across the political spectrum. That takes some doing.[T]he number of officials in the Trump administration who can claim to have preserved their moral bearings in this administration keeps shrinking by the day.
It is possible that the vice president reads this and cancels his Washington Post subscription in a fake moral outrage. It would be on brand for him. It would not change the fact that he has sullied his standing with this act of moral appeasement.