Donald Trump suggested again yesterday that he’d issue presidential pardons to Jan. 6 rioters if he returns to the White House, echoing a line he’s said several times before. Yesterday, however, the Republican went even further in expressing support for those who attacked the U.S. Capitol.
During an on-air interview with conservative radio host Wendy Bell — one of his first broadcast interviews since the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search nearly a month ago — Trump said he supports “full pardons” for many rioters, whom he would also reward with some kind of official government “apology.”
But as The Washington Post reported, the former president went on to break new ground.
Trump, during his conversation with Bell on Thursday morning, also said that he met with some Jan. 6 defendants in his office this week and that he is helping some financially. “I am financially supporting people that are incredible and they were in my office actually two days ago, so they’re very much in my mind,” Trump said. “It’s a disgrace what they’ve done to them. What they’ve done to these people is disgraceful.”
In other words, the former president — the ostensible leader of one of the nation’s two political parties and the presumptive front-runner for the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination — wants to give pardons, apologies and money to political radicals who launched an insurrectionist attack on his own country’s Capitol.
Last night in Philadelphia, President Joe Biden warned Americans of the societal dangers posed by Trump’s twisted and dangerous ideology. Hours earlier, the Democrat’s immediate predecessor helped prove Biden right.
Circling back to our earlier coverage, I’m struck by the degree to which the Republican has come full circle when it comes to the rioters. Indeed, let’s not forget that during the Jan. 6 attack, the then-president sat on his hands and ignored calls to intervene. More than three hours after the violence began, Trump released a video urging his mob of radicalized followers to disperse.
But even then, the Republican made clear that he and the rioters were on the same side. In the video he released at the time, Trump told his supporters that there had been “an election that was stolen from us.” He added, “We love you. You’re very special.”
It was soon after when the then-president started to realize that this, at least at the time, was a politically untenable position: His own Cabinet had begun conversations about removing Trump from office by way of the 25th Amendment. He and his team decided he needed “cover” to remain in the White House.
And so, Trump shifted his message: The then-president said on Jan. 7, “Like all Americans, I am outraged by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem.” He went on to describe the riot as a “heinous attack.”
Reading from a prepared text, Trump added: “The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy. ... To those who engage in the acts of violence and destruction: You do not represent our country, and to those who broke the law: You will pay.”
Five days later, the Republican condemned the “mob [that] stormed the Capitol and trashed the halls of government.” On the final full day of his term, again reading from a script, Trump added: “All Americans were horrified by the assault on our Capitol. Political violence is an attack on everything we cherish as Americans. It can never be tolerated.”
In the months that followed, Trump struggled to keep up the pretense that he almost certainly never believed in the first place. By May 2021, the former president was suggesting the rioters were victims. He eventually started describing them as “patriots.” Around the same time, the former president first broached the subject of extending pardons to convicted radicals.
And now, the multistep process has not only brought Trump back to the beginning, he has actually gone further than ever before.
- Trump “loved” the rioters.
- Trump then condemned the rioters’ “heinous attack.”
- Trump then said the rioters may not have been so bad after all.
- Trump then said the rioters are innocent “patriots” and their attack “represented the greatest movement in the history of our Country to Make America Great Again.”
- Trump now wants to give them pardons, apologies and “financial support.”
To be sure, whether the rioters will ever actually see such money is an open question: The former president does not easily part with his own cash. It’s one thing for him to say he’ll offer financial support; it’s something else for him to actually pick up his checkbook.
Either way, of course, the larger point remains the same: As questions swirl about the Republican Party’s commitment to democratic principles, Trump has picked a side — and it’s the wrong one.
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss recently wondered about what future Americans might say about Jan. 6, and the degree to which the answer depends on whether the United States is a democracy or an autocracy. “If the latter,” Beschloss wrote, “the nation’s authoritarian leaders might celebrate January 6 as one of great days in U.S. history.”
One former president apparently doesn’t need to wait for the future to draw such a conclusion.