The Slatest

When Asked About the Peaceful Transition of Power, Mike Pence Talked About “Obamagate”

Pence sits at his desk at the debate stage.
Vice President Mike Pence at Wednesday’s vice presidential debate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Robyn Beck/Getty Images

President Donald Trump has repeatedly declined to say he would support a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the presidential election. Instead, Trump has ramped up efforts in recent weeks to preemptively raise suspicions about the outcome of the election. In last week’s presidential debate, Trump avoided directly answering questions about this.

At the vice presidential debate on Wednesday, Mike Pence also failed to reassure Americans that he will stand by one of the foundational elements of the Constitution. When asked about the topic in the debate’s final segment, Pence dodged. He made vague references to right-wing talking points about the Obama administration and declined to answer the question asked.

Here is his full exchange with the moderator:

Susan Page: President Trump has several times refused to commit himself to a peaceful transfer of power after the election. If Vice President Biden is declared the winner, and President Trump refuses to accept a peaceful transfer of power, what would be your role and responsibility as vice president? What would you personally do? You have two minutes. 

Mike Pence: Well Susan, first and foremost, I think we’re going to win this election. Because while Joe Biden and Kamala Harris rattle off a long litany of the establishment in Washington, D.C.—an establishment that Joe Biden has been a part of for 47 years—President Donald Trump has launched a movement of everyday Americans from every walk of life. And I have every confidence that the same Americans that delivered the historic victory in 2016—they see this president’s record, where we rebuild our military, we revived our economy through tax cuts and rolling back regulation, fighting for fair trade, unleashing American energy. We appointed conservatives to our federal courts at every level. And we stood with the men and women of law enforcement every single day. And I think that movement of Americans has only grown stronger in the last four years. But when you talk about accepting the outcome of the election, I must tell you, senator, your party has spent the last three and a half years trying to overturn the results of the last election. It’s amazing. When Joe Biden was vice president of the United States, the FBI actually spied on President Trump and my campaign. I mean, there were documents released this week, that the CIA actually made a referral to the FBI documenting that those allegations were coming from the Hillary Clinton campaign. And of course, we’ve all seen the avalanche, what you put the country through for the better part of three years until it was found that there was no obstruction, no collusion, case closed. And then Sen. Harris, you and your colleagues in the Congress tried to impeach the president of the United States over a phone call. And now Hillary Clinton has actually said to Joe Biden, in her words, under no circumstances should he concede the election. So let me just say, I think we’re going to win this election. President Trump and I are fighting every day in courthouses to prevent Joe Biden and Kamala Harris from changing the rules and creating this universal mail-in voting that will create a massive opportunity for voter fraud. We have a free and fair election. We know, we’re going to have confidence in it. And I believe in all my heart that President Donald Trump is going to be reelected for four more years.

The significance of his answer is in what it is missing. At no point did he promise to commit himself to a nonviolent transfer of power. Instead, he made vague and inaccurate claims of why Americans should not trust an electoral outcome that favors Democrats: The FBI and the Clinton campaign targeted the Trump campaign with shady tactics (he’s alluding to an ongoing effort by Republicans to portray the Mueller investigation as a corrupt partisan attack), Clinton has told Biden not to concede an election (this is a quote, taken out of context, related to the expected delays in vote counting due to the pandemic and mail-in-ballots), and most importantly, Biden and Harris are going to create widespread voter fraud (there’s no evidence mail-in voting is vulnerable to fraud).

Pence parroted his running mate’s tactics and talking points in the answer, but it’s still noteworthy that the sitting vice president was unwilling to come out with the simple reassurance that he and his party would stand by the democratic process.