Donald Trump knew that he lost re-election but consciously dragged the US on a bloody rollercoaster ride. His mendacity culminated in the 6 January 2021 invasion of the Capitol. Seventeen months have since passed, but the 45th president has not yet voiced a contrite syllable.
Instead, the big lie – that Trump actually defeated Joe Biden – stands as Republican orthodoxy. More than half of House Republicans voted against certifying the election. Think of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz as Maga’s poster children. The party of Lincoln has morphed into a mosh pit for conspiracy theories and grievance.
On Monday, the House special committee heard from those who Trump willfully ignored. Bill Barr, Trump’s attorney general; Bill Stepien, his campaign manager; and Jason Miller, a senior political adviser, all appeared under oath on the screen.
Collectively, their message was consistent. On 3 November 2020, Trump finished second to a man he held in searing contempt. Even Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, and Ivanka, the favorite child, grudgingly acknowledged that the electorate had rejected him.
Beyond that, they posited that Trump’s post-election denials were anchored in fantasy, nothing more. “Right out of the box on election night, the president claimed that there was major fraud under way,” Barr said on video. “I mean, this happened, as far as I could tell, before there was actually any potential of looking at evidence.”
Barr added: “There was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.” In other words, Trump refused to let reality get in the way of a coup.
He proceeded with his bid to unlawfully overturn the election, torch democracy and shred the constitution. If it meant that Mike Pence, Trump’s hapless vice-president, would hang from the gallows, that would be a price that could be paid to slake the then president’s ambition and satisfy his base’s bloodlust.
Lest anyone forget, from 2015 onward violence and menace were key ingredients in Trump’s rallies and appeal. Looking back, the distance between hassling MSNBC’s Katy Tur on the campaign trail and killing Pence was short. Trump telling the Proud Boys amid a debate to “stand back and stand by” was part prelude and part battle cry. Two months later, the nation witnessed the bloody aftermath.
In the near term, the committee’s hearings are unlikely to move voters. But 2024 may present a different opportunity.
Against the backdrop of inflation and concerns about crime, a Republican victory in the upcoming midterms remains the likeliest outcome. By the numbers, half the US sees the hearings as having no impact on how they vote in less than a half-year. Among Republicans, that figure swells to nearly 70%.
Further out, the hearings may render Trump unacceptable to a sufficiently large segment of Republican primary voters – with Ron DeSantis, Florida’s culture war governor, emerging as the main beneficiary.
Already, betting markets give Trump and DeSantis the same 38% chance of winning their party’s presidential nomination. Likewise, punters say that both men possess just under a three-in-10 shot of being elected president. For the DeSantis, those are great numbers; for Trump, not so much.
And then there are Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers – the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. A 10 January 2022 WSJ editorial blared: “The evidence of the January 6 committee: it’s a reminder of the violence and how Trump betrayed his supporters”. Over at the Post, the tabloid branded Trump as “the King Lear of Mar-a-Lago”, accused him of refusing to “accept reality”, and characterized January 6 as “a national shame.”
Right now, Rudy Giuliani still appears ready to whisper sweet little lies into Trump’s ears. For the moment, the ex-reality show host shuttles between Florida and New Jersey. He remains restless. Like Napoleon at Elba, he plots his revenge and return. Don’t expect him to accede to reality anytime soon.