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Pence’s refusal to back Trump points to a larger problem

Both of Donald Trump’s defense secretaries have warned in no uncertain terms about how dangerous he is, with one recently calling him a “threat to democracy.” One of his attorneys general has called the criminal evidence against him “damning” and warned that he would abuse his power. A chief of staff keeps confirming the ugliest anonymously sourced reports about him. And now his vice president has said he can’t possibly endorse him.

Mike Pence’s announcement Friday that he would not endorse Trump is huge news, given that this was the man who served shoulder-to-shoulder with Trump for four years as his No. 2 — and often obsequiously so.

But Pence’s non-endorsement is less surprising in another context: He’s merely the latest member of Trump’s Cabinet to balk.

While Republican members of Congress have largely come around to Trump as he’s effectively secured the GOP nomination, those who served more closely with him in his administration have been another story.

Fewer than one-third of the more than 40 people who served in Cabinet roles under Trump have publicly aligned with him during the 2024 campaign.

While even fewer have publicly endorsed him — as noted last summer by NBC News — several others have made their intentions clear, in either public comments or behind-the-scenes actions.

Former secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for instance, never endorsed in the primary but recently affirmed he would support the GOP nominee. Others, like former treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and former commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, kept their powder dry through most of the primary before ultimately endorsing Trump last month. Former Small Business Administration head Linda McMahon recently gave $5 million to a pro-Trump super PAC. Some other advisers have also worked with Trump-aligned groups or causes.

But that leaves about 30 who haven’t come on board, at least publicly.

And it’s not just those who have been outwardly critical of Trump, like former defense secretaries Jim Mattis and Mark T. Esper, former attorney general William P. Barr and former top aides John Kelly and Mick Mulvaney. Many others have more quietly steered clear.

Among the notable absences from Trump’s corner:

Three who, like Mulvaney, resigned in the wake of Jan. 6: former health and human services secretary Alex Azar, former education secretary Betsy DeVos and former transportation secretary Elaine Chao. (Chao’s husband, top GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell, did ultimately endorse Trump this month.)Former attorney general Jeff Sessions, who was the first GOP senator to endorse Trump in 2016 but whom Trump forced out of his Cabinet and opposed when he ran for Senate again.Former energy secretary Rick Perry, who served all four years under Trump but briefly floated running against him in the 2024 race.Former CIA director Gina Haspel, who clashed repeatedly with Trump and his allies.Former director of national intelligence Daniel Coats, who has been sharply critical of Trump’s handling of classified documents.

This list doesn’t include the non-cabinet officials who have broken with Trump, including multiple White House national security advisers. Nor does it include White House aides who have been outspoken against him. And then, of course, there’s Nikki Haley, who is holding out on endorsing Trump after dropping out of the GOP primary this month.

These officials balking at Trump during the 2024 primaries was remarkable enough. But now that Trump has effectively secured the nomination, their continued absence from his team is even more conspicuous.

If nothing else, Pence might have signaled that people who helped Trump run his administration don’t need to do what they’ve clearly been reluctant to do. And if they don’t, that will say plenty.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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