SOUTH BEND – What if they actually did hang Mike Pence? The threat to the safety of the former vice president is clearer now, with Jan. 6 Committee testimony. And Pence looks better and better in his refusal to act illegally to overturn the presidential election results.

We know new details about the pressures on him and about the target painted on him by the angry Donald Trump. “All Mike Pence has to do is send them (certifications) back to the States, AND WE WIN,” Trump tweeted. “Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”

Pence showed the courage to begin the ceremonial process of accepting certified results from the states. And then the courage to stay at the ransacked Capitol to complete it. Pence refused to leave the Capitol, as the Secret Service urged, after he was whisked from the Senate just before the violent mob stormed into the chamber. He stayed and returned to complete the certification and assure peaceful transfer of power in accord with the Constitution.

We learn that it was Pence, not Trump, who finally called for the National Guard to restore order. Trump was regarding the rioting as his best hope of halting the certification of states won by Joe Biden and retraining his presidency.

Real danger for Pence? Well, the violent mob invading the Capitol injured some 140 police officers, some of whom died. The insurgents were deadly serious. Deadly. Chants of “Hang Mike Pence!” weren’t just for laughs. They even erected gallows, noose affixed. Just kidding?

We know now from testimony that Pence feared danger from his break with Trump over whether he could or should attempt to overturn those election results. Pence’s chief of staff went to the Secret Service on Jan. 5 to warn of potential trouble from Trump turning publicly against his long loyal vice president.

When Pence made clear to the president that he had no power under the Constitution to decide the election and would not go along with a plot to do so, the furious president targeted Pence as a coward.

That morning as the crowd of Trump supporters gathered for their march to the Capitol, Trump riled them with his claims of a stolen election. He may not have believed it was stolen. We know now that his attorney general, his campaign team and his White House lawyers told him he had lost. Judges, some appointed by Trump, had rejected claims of vote fraud in over 60 cases.

No matter what Trump really believed, those in that mob believed they were fighting for justice, for the right results of the election. Not all were ready to take the fight physically against police officers and into the Capitol. But we know that many among the organizers were ready for that fight, even going beyond the Capitol and to civil war.

In his speech, Trump repeatedly put pressure and a target on Pence. He told the crowd that he had just spoken to Pence to urge anew that he reject the election results. “All Vice President Mike Pence has to do is send it back to the states to rectify,” Trump said, “and we become president and you’re the happiest people.”

If Pence didn’t do it, Trump warned, “that will be a sad day for our country.” And the crowd marched off with Trump’s admonition to “fight like hell.”

Even after they were ransacking the Capitol and Pence and members of the House and Senate were forced to flee, Trump tweeted: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution.”

The mob that searched for Pence, chanting their intentions, came within 40 feet of reaching him. What if they actually did hang Mike Pence? Would Donald Trump now be in the White House? Or perhaps be in prison? 

Colwell is a columnist with the South Bend Tribune.