SOUTH BEND – He was always there, the loyal vice president, standing right next to Donald Trump. Mike Pence, like an Oval Office decoration, was always there, to nod approval and then add profuse praise for whatever the president did or said.

They weren’t standing together any more as both returned to Washington. They spoke at separate sites a mile apart. Each wants to be back in the Oval Office, each planning to seek the 2024 Republican nomination for president. They once needed each other. No more.

Trump needed Pence as a running mate in 2016. The former Indiana governor, a devout Christian, offered a link to evangelicals, a group initially and understandably skeptical of Trump. Pence also provided assurances to conservative Republicans that Trump would be committed to their governmental philosophy and goals.

Pence needed Trump. Pence had left Congress to run for governor, seeing it as a stepping stone to his goal, the presidency. But his popularity as governor dwindled, keeping him from seeking the 2016 presidential nomination and even threatening his chances for reelection. A key poll showed his approval rating in Indiana at only 40%.

The 2016 election turned out well for both. Trump, with Pence there to help him overcome disclosures about his playboy history, won needed support of evangelicals and party conservatives and won the presidency.

Pence, instead of being brushed aside as a future presidential candidate by a loss or close call in the Indiana governor race, was elected as vice president, an even better stepping stone for president.

Trump also needed Pence and those nods of approval during his presidency. That Pence, a true conservative, was there as a symbol of stability was reassuring for congressional Republicans as they sought to work with an erratic president on Supreme Court confirmations, a GOP tax bill and their budget goals.

Then came the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Trump, in his scheme to overturn the presidential election results and cling to power, needed Pence to reject certification of the results from the states. But Pence, so loyal for so long, even when the president’s bizarre behavior no doubt was troubling, found the demand to decide the presidency in an unconstitutional way to be an order he could not follow.

Pence then needed Trump to call off the Capitol rioters who were threatening the vice president’s life, chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” Pence fled the Senate chamber, dodging nearby rioters and reaching a secure underground hiding place. But Trump wouldn’t call off the rioters, wouldn’t call for the National Guard and wouldn’t even call Pence to check on his safety.

They now need each other no more. They go their separate ways, with different messages. In their addresses in Washington, Trump talked in anger of the past, insisting still that he actually won reelection in 2020, while Pence, in his usual more low-key approach, talked of the future, with only passing reference to Jan. 6 as a “tragic day.”

Trump, portraying himself as the most persecuted person in history, clearly seeks revenge for his 2020 loss as a focal point of his planned 2024 campaign. Said Pence, in contrast: “Some people may choose to focus on the past, but elections are about the future.”

News accounts of their rival events in Washington tell of Pence receiving friendly but not enthusiastic applause from about 250 mostly college-age attendees at a Young America’s Foundation event, while Trump received standing ovations from a crowd of about 800 fervent supporters at an America First Policy Institute gathering. That group is engaged in planning for a new Trump administration.

So, they no longer stand together. They travel down separate paths in seeking the Republican nomination, Trump now the favorite and Pence the long shot. They travel also on their paths toward their far different places in history.

Colwell is a South Bend Tribune columnist.