It wasn’t until President Trump had 14 days left in his term that some of his aides, advisers and allies reached the breaking point.
From resignations to outraged tweets to talk about the 25th Amendment, some of those–in the media as well as politics–who have doggedly defended Trump have suddenly turned harshly critical.
While these sentiments are fueled in part by anger and anguish over the siege of the Capitol by thousands of pro-Trump rioters, they also reflect a last-minute scramble to salvage personal reputations by scrambling off a sinking ship. Some clearly hope they can claim to have done the “right thing” once memories have faded.
The damage done to our democracy was considerable, not to mention the loss of life, and Congress finally returned to a ransacked building and certified Joe Biden’s election after 3 a.m. yesterday. It was only then that the president–his account locked by Twitter–had an aide put out this statement: “Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th.”
It was those who were most sympathetic to Trump over the last four years whose words had the most power. They started jumping off the Trump train.
Former attorney general Bill Barr, so frequently accused of doing Trump’s bidding: “Orchestrating a mob to pressure Congress is inexcusable. The president’s conduct yesterday was a betrayal of his office and his supporters.”
Mick Mulvaney, the former White House chief of staff, resigned as special envoy to Northern Ireland, telling CNBC: “I can’t stay here, not after yesterday. You can’t look at that yesterday and think I want to be a part of that in any way, shape or form.”
Two Cabinet members also bailed: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Mitch McConnell’s wife, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, saying Trump’s “rhetoric” was an “inflection point.”
Also joining the exodus: two top Melania Trump aides, Stephanie Grisham and Rickie Niceta, and deputy White House press secretary Sarah Matthews.
Another former chief of staff, John Kelly, told CNN that if he were in the Cabinet he’d vote to remove Trump. “What happened on Capitol Hill yesterday is a direct result of his poisoning the minds of people with the lies and the frauds,” the retired general said.
Some in the conservative media world could not defend Trump’s role in the invasion of the Capitol, especially when he called the mob members “patriots” and said “we love you”–even while belatedly telling them to go home.
CNN’s Scott Jennings: “I mean, he’s clearly violated his oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution to the best of my ability.”
Fox’s Brian Kilmeade: “Let’s be honest. Since November 3rd, or when we got the verdict by November 5th, the president’s behavior has been terrible.”
Fox’s Brit Hume: “I don’t think there is much doubt…that the president’s actions and his entire conduct postelection are what led us to this point.”
Some on the right argued that only a minority of the protesters were violent–which is true–and tried to deflect blame for the riot by focusing on left-wing violence, which is also reprehensible.
It is just as true that Trump’s norm-busting conduct in recent months, his continual promotion of conspiracy theories and fraud claims that have not convinced a single court, do not invalidate the last four years. For those who cheered his tax cutting, regulation slashing, judicial appointments and withdrawal from foreign wars and treaties, those achievements remain.
But history is written by the winners, and the mainstream media, by and large, are declaring that their years of warning that Trump was a dangerous character who could wreak havoc on society have now been vindicated. The press, which Trump attacked as recently as Wednesday morning as the enemy of the people, are now casting him as the real enemy, emboldened by those aides and supporters who are now trashing him both on the record and in blind quotes to reporters (“a total monster,” one administration official told the Washington Post).
In similar fashion, the Post says Trump is furious with the greatest loyalist outside his immediate family, Mike Pence, for refusing to block the Electoral College certification, which the vice president has no power to do.
Such fierce Trump supporters as McConnell and Lindsey Graham also broke with him in refusing to contest Biden’s electoral victory. And much of the media’s ire is aimed at the Republicans who backed the futile challenges, led by Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley and endorsed by 138 House Republicans.
By the time the smoke cleared yesterday, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and more than 100 congressional Democrats were both calling for Trump to be removed through the 25th Amendment, or face a swift impeachment. But that just made it sound like the same old partisan dynamic of the first impeachment and both outcomes seemed remote. With less than two weeks until the inauguration, such an effort would have to be led by Trump’s Cabinet, and that chatter is going nowhere.
In a new twist yesterday, the New York Times reported that “President Trump has suggested to aides he wants to pardon himself in the final days of his presidency, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.” He is said to have told advisers “that he is considering giving himself a pardon and, in other instances, asked whether he should and what the effect would be on him legally and politically.”
But even in the wake of Trump’s pressure-packed call to Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, wouldn’t that amount to an admission of guilt for a president who loudly proclaims he has done nothing wrong? And it wouldn’t affect the New York investigations already under way.
Imagine what would have happened if Trump had issued his “peaceful transfer of power” statement before his supporters descended on Washington. There would have been no need for them to storm the Capitol, and no need for Republicans doing his bidding to challenge the Electoral College results.
In fact, imagine if Trump had accepted Biden’s victory soon after he captured 306 electoral votes. The final chapter of his presidency would look far different.
Instead, Trump’s inner circle continues to shrink in the awful aftermath of the violence that stained our nation.