The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why it matters that Trump wishes he had marched to the Capitol

Protesters supporting Donald Trump surround the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)
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Donald Trump said three things in his interview with The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey this week that, taken together, construct a worrisome picture.

The first is his insistence that he spent the hours during which the Capitol was being attacked on Jan. 6, 2021, wondering why no one was addressing the alarming situation. Trump told Dawsey that he “hated seeing it,” that it was “a shame” — and that he “assumed they were taking care of it,” meaning House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D).

The incongruity of that latter claim relative to Trump’s previous assertions gives the lie to the whole thing. Trump, the candidate who regularly insisted that it was his toughness that brought an end to urban riots in the summer of 2020, was simply sitting there in front of his TV fretting about Pelosi’s inaction? One very good way to know this isn’t true is that he at no point tweeted out such concerns, something that he was very quick to do in any other circumstance where he wanted to deflect blame. As the Capitol was being breached, he criticized Vice President Mike Pence for not overturning the election results, but we’re supposed to think that Trump was sitting there 30 minutes later and chose not to ask Pelosi to stop the rioters from coming in?

Not to mention the ample other evidence that this wasn’t his mind-set at all: aides who reported Trump’s near-giddiness in watching the scene unfold, as Dawsey notes; his actual statements about the riot, loaded with tacit appreciation for the people he said he loved; his conversation with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), later conveyed to other House Republicans, in which Trump said McCarthy’s concern about the mayhem showed that Trump’s violent supporters were “more upset about the election” than McCarthy was. No mention was made of Pelosi’s need to quell the violence, it seems.

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What Trump is doing here is obvious. He understands that he is expected by official Washington to hold a negative view of the riot, so, when a Washington Post reporter asks, he conveys a negative view. Trump’s eternally malleable worldview has long meant that he simply tells people what he thinks they want to hear. It’s the salesman in him, if nothing else.

But that brings us to the second revealing thing he said.

“Trump said he deserved more credit for drawing such a large crowd to the Ellipse — and that he pressed to march on the Capitol with his supporters but was stopped by his security detail,” Dawsey reports. The “Secret Service said I couldn’t go,” Trump claimed. “I would have gone there in a minute.”

Wistful about missing out! Yes, this is Trump saying how he felt on that day — but apparently without a caveat like, “I’m glad I didn’t, of course,” or “So I could have cooled tempers.” Just a further message of approval: It was good to go, and I wish I had.

This is significant for another reason. The violence that unfolded at the Capitol was a function of both anger and scale. People had to be mad enough to lash out, and there had to be enough of them to overpower law enforcement. Trump fostered both of those conditions, repeatedly making false claims about his election loss and drawing people to Washington on that day with repeated entreaties. His audience heard him.

Organizers of the rally outside the White House that day, though, reportedly debated whether to include a march to the Capitol as part of the day’s planned events. The official website for the day included a rally at the Capitol at 1 p.m., but there was no permit for an actual formal march. In interviews, organizers described an internal fight over the idea, with some worrying about a lack of security for a march. Last month, Rolling Stone reported that those discussions included concern about having it appear that Trump was trying to pressure Congress.

Extremist groups that were planning to enter the building allegedly spoke about the utility of having a large mass of people present. A leader of the Oath Keepers allegedly circulated information about how a huge crowd in Serbia had helped storm parliament. Another later suggested on Facebook that Congress would be unable to “certify some crud on capitol hill with a million or more patriots in the streets.” In a group chat, a member of the Proud Boys allegedly wondered what police would do if “1 million patriots stormed and took the capital building.” The scale was important.

Dustin Stockton, one of the rally organizers, said in interviews that it was only when Trump encouraged the crowd to march to the Capitol during his speech that morning that he realized the fight over the march was lost. The first outer bicycle barricades had fallen by the time Trump was done speaking. But it wasn’t until thousands of people began arriving at the Capitol from the White House that the building itself was breached.

The key point is this: Whether Trump was part of the conversations about the danger of sending supporters to the Capitol that day, he — like everyone else — should certainly realize the danger in doing so now. And yet he still wishes he had been there alongside them. He still expresses his support for heading from the White House to the Capitol, despite the tangibility of what that allowed. He knows he is supposed to say it was bad, but he also can’t help but say he wishes he had been there marching alongside his supporters on his way to the Capitol.

Which leads us to the final important thing that Trump told Dawsey.

“I don’t want to comment on running,” Trump said about a presidential bid in 2024, “but I think a lot of people are going to be very happy by my decision.” This in the same conversation where he waved away potential primary opponents, suggesting that the field would clear if he threw his hat in the ring.

Trump tried to hold power despite losing. He pines for having been able to be with the crowd at the Capitol on Jan. 6 as rioters fought to accomplish that goal. And he has clear designs on once again serving as the most powerful person in America.

This should not yield shrugs.