By Ed Breen
A couple of reporters who are not given to overstatement, including Adam Wren, who learned the rudiments of his craft at IWU and the Chronicle-Tribune a few years ago, are willing to say that Dan Quayle, “may have saved the republic” when he spoke with Mike Pence during those insane hours when everything hung in the balance back on January 6.
This has all come to the surface again because Bob Woodward of Watergate fame has published another book on the last days of the Trump presidency. It is titled simply “Peril,” and in it the nation’s most consistently accurate reporter — Woodward – recounts a conversation between the two Hoosier vice presidents, J. Danforth Quayle of the Bush 41 years and Mike Pence of the Trump nightmare.
Quayle, who is now 74 years old and living in Arizona, was born in Indianapolis and reared up in Huntington. He lived for a while in his bachelor days in the apartment above the Huntington Herald-Press building when his family owned the newspaper. He was, first, an obscure Congressman then a very young Senator and then was plucked from the crowd and anointed as George H. W. Bush’s running mate back in 1988. You recall all the deer-caught-in-the-headlights stuff and his spelling of potato.
Mike Pence, a Hoosier from Columbus who was also an obscure Congressman who later sold his soul to Donald Trump, was in deep do-do in those post-election days when Trump wanted to overturn the will of the people and stay on in the White House.
Trump, we know, was ratcheting up the pressure on Pence: We can overturn this thing, we can do whatever we want, and you need to do whatever is necessary to help me. Or words to that effect.
We know that Pence went back into the battlefield that the U.S. Capitol building had become on the night of January 6 and presided over the certification of the election results. Thus did Joe Biden become president and thus did Trump turn on Mr. Pence.
We all knew that Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence were, at long last, angry with one another. What we did not know, and what Bob Woodward has reconstructed for us, is the depth of the anguish, the demands being dumped on Pence and, now , the deliberate role played by Dan Quayle in those few hours in which the fate of the nation was teetering on the brink. Those minutes in which, in reporter Adams Wren’s words, Quayle “may have saved the republic.”
As recounted by Woodward, it unfolded like this: Apparently at some point that day the Vice President called the former Vice President; Pence called Quayle. The logic: Pence knew that Quayle had presided over the U.S. Senate in the affirmation of the election of Bush 41 back in 1989. Same procedure. Same laws. The brotherhood of Republicans and the vice presidency.
Pence was asking repeatedly if there was some way to follow Trump’s demand to throw out election results.
“Mike, you have no flexibility on this,” Quayle told him. “None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away.”
Pence pleaded that Quayle didn’t know the position he was in, with pressure from Trump.
“I do know the position you’re in,” Quayle responded. “I also know what the law is. You listen to the Parliamentarian. That’s all you do. You have no power.”
When Pence suggested there might be something to Trump’s claim of election fraud in Arizona, Quayle stomped on it, saying, “Mike, I live in Arizona. There’s nothing out here.”
And that, apparently, was that. So far as we know that’s when the call ended and Pence went back the Senate and did his job.
A commentator for CNN, who sees it much as Adam Wren sees it, put it this way:
“If you think I’m exaggerating the role Quayle played,” he said, “ consider how things might have gone had he taken a different tack with Pence, telling him to do what Trump asked.”
“We could have seen the legitimate decline of American democracy, with the demonstrated will of the people overturned by a single man.
“Consider that. And then say a silent ‘thank you’ to Dan Quayle, yes, Dan Quayle, for keeping our republic intact.
“It showed how fragile democracy can be. So fragile that one man who hasn’t been in national office in decades, may have single handedly saved it.”
By Ed Breen
Beg your indulgence today as we take a little journey through time and space, and I would be so pleased if you would accompany me.
We begin on U.S. 31 at Kokomo, north bound past Peru and Rochester and Plymouth and on to South Bend, where we turn right on Angela Boulevard, jog over to Holy Cross Drive on the Notre Dame campus and wend our way north, past the football stadium, almost to the Hesburgh Library and the fabled Touchdown Jesus mosaic and we pull into the parking lot just across the road from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the church on the most Irish and most Catholic campus certainly in the Midwest, maybe in all of America.
We walk past the Grotto, up the steps past the new Corby Hall – as opposed to the old Corby Hall, which will be important in our story — and on to the entrance to the Gothic structure that is the church. It was built in 1871 – and that date, too, will be important in our story.
I ask you to stand here with me on these steps in front of those twin heavy oak doors at the entrance to the church. And I ask you to join me in drifting back in memory, if not in time, to this time of the year at this very spot, these steps, those doors, in 1907. That is, 114 years ago.
On an October morning, probably every morning and certainly on Sunday morning, a cocky little five-foot-seven dark Irish kid with a shock of black hair and an athletic build comes across that adjacent lawn from his dorm room –Room 70 in Corby Hall — and opens these doors to this church and enters.
That youngster – he was 18 years old on that day – was the hotshot freshman quarterback on the Fighting Irish football team. And he knew it. You can tell from the expression on his face in the team photo that fall. He’s the little guy , front row left, sitting cross-legged on the floor.
Oh, this was long before the stadium and Touchdown Jesus and big time TV. He later said they all remembered the day the Rockne came to South Bend. They all knew that Notre Dame had landed a bigtime football player long before he became a legendary coach, long before the Gipper and Lujack and the Four Horsemen and Hornung and Joe Montana and all the rest. Parseghian and Brennan and Leahy and Holtz hadn’t even been born yet.
This youngster named Maurice – never Maury, always Maurice — had come from northwest Iowa to go to school and to play football and was good enough that, yes, he was going to be the quarterback on this freshman team, at least until he played some pickup basketball on a dirt floor that fall, slipped on a wet spot and blew out his knee. In those days, when you blew out your knee, that’s when the career ended. And so it did.
This kid with the bad knee, who stayed to get his education, who lived in Corby Hall, who walked these steps to those doors, was my dad . . . my father. And I have come to this spot in search of sharing space that he once occupied a century ago.
My father was born back in 1889, grew up, went to Notre Dame, lived in Los Angeles for a while back in the ’20s and finally decided to settle down, get married and father a family when he was 54 years old. He did all of the above. Now, a personal note: When you are a kid and dad is 65, well, it’s kind of like growing up with grandpa. Oh, I have my memories of hearth and home, but he had lived a full life before I ever came along. What was that life? Where? What did he do in that life? I know he helped smuggle immigrants fleeing Bolshevik Russia into Los Angeles. And he made living of sorts writing term papers for UCLA students back then.
But it’s like this: His life span and mine, thus far, cover 132 years – 1889 to 2021 – and we, my father and I, shared the planet for only 29 of those years before his death. And for many of those years I was an uncaring and disinterested adolescent and teenager. Fifteen-year-olds don’t much care about what dad did. That’s just the way it is.
He was around for the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk and watched on TV when man land on the moon in his last days. Telephones, automobiles, electric lights, two World Wars – he fought in the first one – and on into the digital age, which he would not have enjoyed.
But my shared space and time was brief and distant. Oh, we shared home and neighborhood and some family vacation trips back when the kids rode in the back seat with all the windows down all day before there was air conditioning.
But what of him? Where, exactly had he trod in those 54 years? Iowa, Los Angeles, other places? Few spots that I can identify and occupy with assurance.
So it is here, on these steps leading to those doors at that church on that campus that I am absolutely certain that he and I are occupying precisely the same space on the planet, separated only by 114 years and two lifetimes.
Thank you for accompanying me on this little journey.