SOUTH BEND – Mike Pence keeps looking better. “I’m not getting in the car,” Pence said defiantly as the Capitol riot raged. Those words now are focused on by the committee investigating the effort to overturn the presidential election.
     
That statement of determination to stay and complete certification of election results is described by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a committee member, as “six of the most chilling words in American history.”
     
As the committee zeros in on what happened and what was at stake, Raskin finds it clear that Pence, in staying and insisting on completing certification on the night of that Jan. 6 insurrection, halted the chilling prospect of a coup aimed at preventing peaceful transfer of power under the Constitution.
     
That quote from Pence, who feared being whisked away on orders from Donald Trump’s Secret Service supervisors if he got in the vice presidential limo, appeared in “I Alone Can Fix It,” a book written by two Washington Post reporters.
     
I read the quote in the book and read about it in news accounts and admired the courage of Pence, who had been sought by insurrectionists chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.” Now, what was at stake becomes clearer.
     
Pence and his associates have sought to get out those details of when he was forced to flee to a subterranean level of the Capitol. He wanted it known that he wasn’t going to be seen fleeing in a motor caravan, a visual that would have been interpreted by the insurrectionists that they had won.
     
In the account of what happened as the vice presidential limo was brought to the location, Tim Giebels, lead agent in Pence’s Secret Service detail, told Pence to get in the car, not to leave but for security in the armored vehicle.
     
“I trust you, Tim, but you’re not driving the car,” Pence said. “If I get in that vehicle, you guys are taking off. I’m not getting in the car.”
     
The account in the book, with sources providing Pence’s story of events, includes a conversation at the White House at that time between Keith Kellogg, Pence’s national security advisor, and Tony Ornato, Trump appointee overseeing Secret Service movements. Ornato said agents planned to move Pence to Andrews air base. Kellogg said Pence would stay. “He’s got a job to do,” Kellogg said. “I know you guys too well. You’ll fly him to Alaska if you have a chance. Don’t do it.”
     
And they didn’t take him away because Pence wouldn’t get in the car.
     
Then, with Pence and congressional leaders, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, insisting on it, the official certification was completed that night. The Constitution was followed. No coup. No martial law. No slippage of American democracy to the level of a banana republic.
     
The new focus on Pence’s role provides further proof of the error of some Hoosiers, ones not pleased with his term as their governor, who said removing Trump through impeachment wouldn’t make things any better under a President Pence. They thought erroneously that Pence, because he was a loyal vice president and an avowed conservative, would keep doing just what Trump was doing.
     
Pence actually believed in things avowed conservatives preached about democracy under the Constitution. The country certainly would have been better off if Pence had been president in 2020.
     
Pence, always in traditional Republican ranks of opposing Vladimir Putin’s aggression, never would have been a Putin apologist. Never would have held up defense shipments to Ukraine. Never would have undermined NATO. Never would have stirred supporters to storm the Capitol. He would have honored election results and supported the peaceful transfer of power. In fact, he did that in his constitutional role as vice president.
     
Pence keeps looking better. To the point where he will be president? Probably not. But we could have worse. On that Jan. 6, we did.

Colwell is a columnist for the South Bend Tribune.