March 8, 2021 6:20 pm ET Main Street: For criticizing H.R.1 as an “unconstitutional power grab,” Mike Pence is accused of spreading Donald Trump’s ‘big lie.’ Images: AFP via Getty Images/AP Composite: Mark Kelly

That didn’t last long.

Only a month ago, a Journal editorial noted the “strange new respect for Mike Pence ” emanating from America’s progressive quarters. It was strange because it comes after four years of presenting Mr. Pence as a religious kook and Donald Trump flunky. At one point even his wife, Karen, came under fire for the high crime of teaching art part-time at a small Christian school that adheres to a traditional view of marriage.

All this changed Jan. 6. On that day, Vice President Pence certified Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College, returning to the Capitol to finish the job even after some Trump supporters had roamed the halls chanting, “Hang Mike Pence.” Overnight, he found himself extolled as the “hero” who had saved American democracy from the mob. At Mr. Trump’s subsequent impeachment trial, House managers sang Mr. Pence’s praises.

The Journal editorial suggested this new respect for Mr. Pence wouldn’t last. Indeed it hasn’t.

The same man hailed only a few weeks ago as an American Cincinnatus is today back to being just another Trump toady. The trigger was an op-ed last week for the Daily Signal website in which Mr. Pence called election integrity a “national imperative.” New York magazine described this as “Mike Pence’s Blueprint for Permanent Authoritarian Rule.” CNN chimed in with a “fact check” headlined: “Pence echoes Trump’s Big Lie in dishonest op-ed on election rules.”

The “Big Lie” is Mr. Trump’s contention that he is the real winner of the 2020 election. Mr. Biden has himself likened Mr. Trump to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and the idea that if you tell a lie big enough and often enough, people will come to believe it.

Here’s how the lead sentence in the CNN fact check explains it: “In an opinion article published on Wednesday, former Vice President Mike Pence did something he used to do in office: echo a lie from former President Donald Trump in a slightly more sophisticated way.” The CNN piece concedes that Mr. Pence wrote nothing about election “fraud.” He also didn’t argue that anything happened that could have changed the election outcome. Still, the CNN fact check asserts that Mr. Pence’s “vaguer claim about ‘voting irregularities’ ” left it “wide open for readers to interpret as an endorsement of Trump’s fraud lie.”

But here’s the thing with Mr. Pence’s article: Contrary to the claim of dishonesty in CNN’s headline, there is no endorsement at all of Mr. Trump’s election claims. Not only has Mr. Pence not contested Mr. Biden’s victory, he officially certified the Electoral College votes—even though he was under enormous pressure from Mr. Trump to “stop the steal” by not doing so. So who has the real dishonesty issues here—and why?

CNN gives a hint when it describes Mr. Pence’s article as “mostly filled with attacks on a Democratic elections reforms bill known as HR 1.” They are right that Mr. Pence’s op-ed was mostly about H.R.1, which passed the House last week without a single Republican vote. This is an 800-page bill that, as Mr. Pence writes, “mandates the most questionable and abuse-prone election rules nationwide, while banning commonsense measures to detect, deter, and prosecute election fraud.”

Proponents hope to push the bill through without a real debate by conflating anyone who has any concerns at all about the 2020 election with those endorsing Mr. Trump’s claim that it was stolen from him. In the same way, any Republican effort to ensure that voters are who they say they are is dismissed as “voter suppression.” Just google “Pence” and “Big Lie.”

Ditto for CNN’s flimsy fact checks on the bill’s content. To take but one example, CNN says Mr. Pence’s claim that “voter ID would be banned from coast to coast” is false. The actual provision, CNN points out, “requires states to allow voters who do not show ID to instead submit a signed statement under penalty of perjury attesting to their identity and eligibility to vote.”

But this is a distinction without a difference. If states cannot stop people without identification from voting, any voter ID law is effectively nullified.

Where Mr. Pence’s article gets specific about “irregularities,” moreover, it’s to raise a legitimate beef: States “set aside laws enacted by state legislatures in favor of sweeping changes ordered by governors, secretaries of state, and courts” to their election laws. He further—and rightly—notes that H.R.1’s proponents “want to silence and censor anyone who would dare to criticize their unconstitutional power grab.” In short, if Mr. Pence is a villain again, it’s for the crime of suggesting the American people are entitled to “a substantive discussion in Congress” before this sweeping bill is passed into law.

The good news is that Mr. Pence isn’t likely to let these latest criticisms from the left bother him too much. That’s because he never took their praise seriously either.

Write to mcgurn@wsj.com.

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Appeared in the March 9, 2021, print edition as ‘Pence Goes From Hero to Villain.’

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