One of the strangest things about Donald Trump is that, despite a habit of uncontrollable lying, the Republican has repeatedly — and without any real prompting — disclosed his own misdeeds.
Trump admitted he fired James Comey as the director of the FBI in the hopes of derailing an investigation against him. He confessed that he deliberately misled his own country about the severity of the coronavirus threat. He made self-incriminating comments about his role in an illegal hush-money payment to a porn star with whom he allegedly had an extra-marital affair. The list goes on and on.
The Atlantic's Adam Serwer wrote in 2018, "Donald Trump can't stop telling on himself." A year later, Nick Akerman, a former Watergate prosecutor, said, "What he's been saying in public is the kind of thing I used to prosecute people for doing in private."
It was against this backdrop that the former president decided to issue a written statement last night, apparently after having heard about negotiations over reforming the Electoral Count Act. The statement read in its entirety:
"If the Vice President (Mike Pence) had 'absolutely no right' to change the Presidential Election results in the Senate, despite fraud and many other irregularities, how come the Democrats and RINO Republicans, like Wacky Susan Collins, are desperately trying to pass legislation that will not allow the Vice President to change the results of the election? Actually, what they are saying, is that Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome, and they now want to take that right away. Unfortunately, he didn't exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!"
Before we dig in on the significance of such a statement, it's worth setting the stage by reviewing some of the relevant details.
When Trump and his confederates launched a campaign against the 2020 results, they sought to overturn the election by exploiting apparent ambiguities in the Electoral Count Act of 1887 — a law passed in the aftermath of a brutally messy election controversy, which was designed to establish a congressional process for certifying electoral votes.
George Conway added last night, "The Twelfth Amendment and the Electoral Count Act of 1887 already make it entirely clear that the Vice President merely opens the envelopes. But sometimes we want to make laws even clearer so that even semiliterate psychopaths have a chance at understanding them."
With this in mind, there are ongoing negotiations over a possible bipartisan bill, and Senate negotiators hoped Trump wouldn't interfere too much. Last night's statement suggests the Republican has learned of the talks and hopes to hijack them for his own undemocratic purposes.
As is too often the case, Trump is nevertheless badly confused about the basics. He thinks the legislative discussions offer proof that Pence could've "overturned" the election results on Jan. 6, and the former president remains outraged that this did not happen. In reality, (a) vice presidents can't overturn election results; (b) Electoral Count Act talks do not prove otherwise; and (c) if Trump were right, Vice President Kamala Harris would get to decide the winner of the 2024 race, which is a dynamic Republicans should probably want to avoid.
But as important as these details are, let's not miss the forest for the trees: Trump is now coming right out and saying — in print, in public, on the record — that he wanted to "overturn the election." There was a fight over the very nature of democracy in the United States, and the Republican took a bold stand against the will of the electorate and fought to reject voters' verdict.
In case this isn't obvious, some of the former president's allies spent much of last year arguing that they weren't trying to overturn the election; they simply wanted a debate over made-up claims of voter fraud and baseless "voter integrity" questions.
It's against this backdrop that Trump has cut off those arguments at the knees. We know the Republican wanted to "change the outcome" and "overturn the election" because he's now told us so.