There is a lot that we knew about Donald Trump’s actions on January 6th (for example, I think it is important to remember that he basically ended that day by releasing a video statement that was highly sympathetic to those who had stormed the capitol, and told them that “we love you”). There are mountains of inflammatory statements made, in public, about the election, its alleged theft, and how much people ought to be fighting mad. There are now hours of testimony from, I would hasten to add, Republican politicians* and officials as to Trump’s unwillingness to accept reality and, instead, his interest in exploring all options, including the extralegal, to stay in power.
Now, I know wading through all of that takes some work, so let me focus on the old adage, “you are known by the company you keep.” I am also not going to focus here on the issue of legal culpability, but simply on the question of suitability for office (which is largely a political question).
My most general question is: should a politician who has knowingly met with persons who came bearing extralegal, extraconstitutional (if not blatantly illegal and unconstitutional) theories about how that politician can remain in power be seen as qualified to run for office again?
We know and have known for going on two years, that Trump was associated with attorney John Eastman. We know that Eastman was at the “Stop the Steal” rally, for example, and met with Trump at the White House on many occasions. We also know that Eastman wrote a memo that stated that the Vice President had the power to simply reject electoral votes from the states. And, further, he argued that the sitting Vice President, Mike Pence, should reject the electoral votes from a set of states that Trump lost. In no uncertain terms, this was an argument for granting the Vice Presidency the power to decide the outcome of American presidential elections.
This was a memo designed to steal an election, plain and simple.
And I would venture to assert that most Americans if they read this story in a history book apart from the passions of the moment, would easily see the problem. Moreover, I think a lot of current Republican voters who are downplaying all of this (if not in active denial) would readily see the threat if we were talking about a Democrat hosting an attorney with such theories.
To be frank, the above fact should be enough for current Republican office-holders to be behaving more like Liz Cheney than like Kevin McCarthy. Or, if you like, they should be acting more like private Kevin McCarthy and less like public Kevin McCarthy.
We now have the following via the NYT: Little-Known Lawyer Pitched Trump on Extreme Plans to Subvert Election.
Around 5 in the afternoon on Christmas Day in 2020, as many Americans were celebrating with family, President Donald J. Trump was at his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Fla., on the phone with a little-known conservative lawyer who was encouraging his attempts to overturn the election, according to a memo the lawyer later wrote documenting the call.
The lawyer, William J. Olson, was promoting several extreme ideas to the president. Mr. Olson later conceded that part of his plan could be regarded as tantamount to declaring “martial law” and that another aspect could invite comparisons with Watergate. The plan included tampering with the Justice Department and firing the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, according to the Dec. 28 memo by Mr. Olson, titled “Preserving Constitutional Order.”
“Our little band of lawyers is working on a memorandum that explains exactly what you can do,” Mr. Olson wrote in his memo, obtained by The New York Times, which he marked “privileged and confidential” and sent to the president. “The media will call this martial law,” he wrote, adding that “that is ‘fake news.’”
Again, if the partisan labels were different, I think a lot of Trump-defenders who read this would take a very different view of the situation (and, I know, not some number of Democrats would change their tunes).
But here’s the bottom line, apart from any other evidence or arguments: it should be unthinkable and unacceptable for a sitting president, especially one post-election, to entertain these kinds of persons or ideas. If the local youth pastor was getting visits from NAMBLA ( associates, or from attorneys writing memos about how six-year-olds are actually adults, no one in their right mind would be sending their kids to youth group. Moreover, no member of that church should be willing to continue to employ such a person.
Would you hire an accountant who had lunch with a guy who wrote a book called Fifty Ways to Cheat your Clients?
In short, just these two examples (Eastman and Olson) should be enough to make reasonable people seek to move away from Trump–whether we are talking office-holders or voters. Trump was a sitting president listening to people who wanted him to subvert our electoral process. That should be disqualifying on its face. But, alas, this is not the case for a lot of Americans.
(I could also note the letter that Jeffrey Clark wanted to send).
When a bunch of people are making serious attempts at subverting the system and the sitting president is willing to listen to them, that should be disqualifying, plain and simple. There are other Republican politicians for the party to nominate. Nominate them and move on. Think about what supporting Trump for 2024 would mean.
I could do on, but will note Sidney Powell as well. Her theories included utter fabrications about Dominion Voting Systems and crazy theories about Hugo Chavez. Indeed, her claims were such that her defense in the defamation suit brought by Dominion included the notion “no reasonable person would conclude that [her] statements were truly statements of fact.” If one watches any of Powell’s press conferences, interviews, or testimony before the committee and finds her cogent and credible, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona one might be interested in. I might even throw the Golden Gate in free.
Let’s not forget Mike Lindell. Just on its face, and without getting into Lindell’s behavior and claims, the notion that some random CEO and TV pitchman of a relatively minor company would have deep information about the electoral systems of various states is farcical. If Lindell was a character in a prestige TV drama we would think that the writers had gotten quite sloppy. This is like Ron Popeil being a key figure in Watergate. And what was up with the Overstock.com guy being at the WH? It would all be laughable if who the president is and who they act and think wasn’t serious on a global scale.
I could go on and on and it is one ugly picture.
If one can look at people like Eastman and Olsen and not see the threat, or look at people like Powell and Lindell and not see dangerous clowns, then I would say that either one has no ability to judge expertise and character, and/or one’s partisan lenses are way too thick.
To cut to the chase: if you are a Trump supporter reading this, ask yourself what you are supporting and defending? I understand that having your side attacked is no fun and that the automatic response is defense. But you would not defend the above if a Democrat did it, so what is the moral, logical, evidence-based argument for defending Trump? Moreover: what is the basis to support him for the nomination in 2024?
(And please: to the regulars, can this not be another “it’s a cult!” discussion thread?).
A side note:
On this theme of the company one keeps, I will state that one of the things that has really struck me about the testimony in the hearings (and really, back to the behavior of various actors throughout the administration) is that we always knew, to use a phrase from Bill Sepien, Trump’s former campaign, there was a Team Crazy and a Team Normal in the White House. One of the things that really, truly concerns me is that a second Trump administration will be all Team Crazy. I have little doubt that one of the lessons that Trump learned is that careerists and professionals with actual resumes stopped him from doing what he wanted, but that there is a coterie of enablers out there who will be more than willing to do his bidding. I would expect a second Trump administration to be rife with such folks, and I honestly find that to be a horrifyingly frightening prospect.
This is not about Democrat/Republican or conservative/liberal. This is about basic competence and respect for logic, reason, and the basic rule of law.
*I keep being struck by the fact that almost all of the testimony at these hearings has been from either people who worked in the White House/for Trump directly or were supporters of Trump. They are, in a word, overwhelmingly Republicans. They all certainly voted for Trump, if not actively worked, let me again note, in the Trump administration. While I recognize that these hearings are not adversarial affairs (i.e., there is not a defense to counter the prosecution), the notion that they are simply a Democratic hit job is simply untrue on its face when the witnesses are almost all Republicans who worked with/for/near Trump himself.
I will also note that if a bipartisan or adversarial process was a good idea, then the Republicans shouldn’t have blocked one. I have no patience for such complaints as there could have been an independent commission, which would have been bipartisan, and McCarthy could have appointed members to this current committee. That Pelosi rejected a set of members who might be subject to the investigation itself was simply not an unreasonable position to take.