After pleading with his followers to come to the nation's capital on Jan. 6 for a "wild" confrontation, and after lying to them for months about the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump dispatched a mob to attack Capitol Hill and disrupt the certification of the incoming president. He reportedly "enjoyed watching the scenes play out on television."
As the attack was ongoing, the Republican chose to make matters worse by issuing a video from the White House, professing his "love" for the rioters, calling them "very special people," and telling them how just their cause was.
About 24 hours later, Trump reversed course, issuing a new video in which he effectively conceded the race he lost two months ago. In carefully scripted remarks, he told Americans:
"Now Congress has certified the results, and the new administration will be inaugurated on January 20. My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly, and seamless transition of power."
Let's review the many problems:
1. Trump's video is filled with lies. In the video, the Republican claimed, "I immediately deployed the National Guard and federal law enforcement to secure the building and expel the intruders." I wish that were true, but it's plainly not. What's more, in the new video, Trump condemned the insurrectionist mob as "heinous," and claimed to be "outraged by the violence, lawlessness, and mayhem," which is the opposite of what he told the public a day earlier.
2. Teleprompter Trump is not to be trusted. The pattern has been obvious for quite a while: Trump speaks his mind, sparks outrage, and then does damage control by reading the words others put on a teleprompter for him to read. As a rule, this is soon followed by a fresh round of scandalous sincerity, in which Trump contradicts the script.
3. It's too late. Oh, now Trump is committed to "a smooth, orderly, and seamless transition of power"? In case the Republican hasn't noticed, the transition is underway, but there's nothing smooth, orderly, or seamless about it.
4. Motivations matter. Trump's video was born of panic. As his failed term nears its end, he faces the very real possibility of impeachment, being removed from office through the 25th Amendment, and possible criminal liability for inciting a riot against his own country's Capitol.
Indeed, the New York Times reported that Trump "initially resisted taping the video, agreeing to do it only after aides pressed him and he appeared to suddenly realize he could face legal risk for prodding the mob." The article added that White House Counsel Pat Cipollone "had warned Mr. Trump of just that danger."
With this in mind, the Republican's video was less a concession speech and more a please-let-me-stick-around-for-12-more-days-and-please-don't-prosecute-me speech.
There were plenty of pundits reflecting late yesterday on Trump's shift in "tone," but make no mistake: this new video is about strategy, not sincerity. Those afraid of what he might do in the closing days of his term need not feel reassured. The threat, made obvious on Wednesday, remains unchanged.