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Mark Meadows' leaked texts destroy the Trump lone actor narrative

Trump was something closer to a nerve center of anti-democratic activity.

The conventional narrative of former President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election frames Trump as the culprit and most Republican lawmakers as tolerating it or tagging along out of political expediency. But the leak of a massive trove of text exchanges between Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff, and dozens of Republican lawmakers highlights how that narrative lets the GOP off too easily. The texts, published by Talking Points Memo, show Trump wasn’t a lone actor, but something closer to a nerve center of anti-democratic activity. Republicans didn’t just put up with Trump, but worked proactively with him to try to discredit the election both before and after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

This is a damning development for the Republican Party. It would be bad enough if its members were co-signing Trump’s lies because they thought it was politically advantageous. But it’s more chilling to see the full scope of many Republicans’ eagerness to dismantle democratic governance.

Meadows wasn’t in touch with just individual lawmakers and strategists, but also influential movers and shakers in MAGA politics who operate in the shadows.

Acting as Trump’s point man for strategy and communications, Meadows exchanged texts with at least 34 Republican members of Congress about overturning the election. One of them, Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, asked Meadows to “impose Marshall [sic] law” as a last resort for “saving our Republic” just days before Joe Biden took office. Another, Rep. Brian Babin of Texas, warned just a few days after the election, “When we lose Trump we lose our Republic. Fight like hell and find a way.” 

The House Jan. 6 committee is holding its final public hearing on Monday, Dec. 19 at 1 p.m. ET. Get expert analysis in real time on our live blog at msnbc.com/jan6report.

Texts show how Trump campaign manager Jason Miller helped Meadows identify which lawmakers, like Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama — whom Miller identified as a “ringleader” — would help “move real numbers” on Jan. 6. And Miller’s message that Trump was encouraging Republicans to join the “Cruz effort” suggests that Sen. Ted Cruz was even more deeply involved in the bid to overturn 2020 than we previously knew.  

Meadows wasn’t in touch with just individual lawmakers and strategists, but also influential movers and shakers in MAGA politics who operate in the shadows. According to the Talking Points Memo, Meadows’ texts include exchanges with the president of the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a dark money MAGA group, as it took on a role as “something of a headquarters for members of Congress working to overturn the election.” CPI reportedly hosted meetings for far-right lawmakers, served as a forum for discussing legal strategy and was sought as a place for “objectors” to gather. 

The revelations go on and on — I recommend reading the full report. But the takeaway is clear: Trump had plenty of help from high places as he used disinformation and the mobilization of his base to try to overturn the election results and pull off a coup against his own government. This was not just something that many influential Republicans rolled their eyes at, but something they saw as a goal worth defending — despite the absence of evidence that fraud had any meaningful role at any level in the 2020 elections. 

It can be tiring to hear new details about the effort to overturn the 2020 election over and over again. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes find it tedious to keep reading up on the never-ending stream of information from that chapter of American history. But one of the reasons it’s so important to absorb the full story of what happened is that it helps illuminate the scope of the rot in our political life.

A crucial question when studying the presidency of Donald Trump is how much he represented a continuation of conventional Republican politics and how much he was an aberration. There are plenty of data points on both sides of the debate. Yet when it comes to the authoritarian effort to overturn the 2020 election results, there’s growing evidence that Trump was not unraveling the mainstream American right, but operating comfortably within its ideology.