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Many theories, no evidence: Giuliani encapsulates the entire Trump era

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani in a scene from the documentary “Rudy! A Documusical.” (Campfire Studios/AP) (AP)
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The testimony of Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R) before the House select committee investigating the attack at the U.S. Capitol included a number of emotional moments. Bowers’s eyes welled as he described how President Donald Trump attempted to get him to set aside his constitutional duty in favor of handing Trump an unearned political victory in the state. He was similarly moved when talking about how Trump’s pressure campaign led to furious protests at his house — carried out by people angry because they didn’t realize Trump was misleading them.

But there was also levity. Bowers at one point described his repeated reply to calls from Trump’s attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis for him to block the election results: Show me the evidence that the election was tainted by fraud. Their response was to promise that the evidence would come … and then no evidence came.

On June 21, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack outlined a scheme supported by President Trump to overturn the 2020 election. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

“At some point,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) asked, “did one of them make a comment that they didn’t have evidence but they had a lot of theories?”

“That was Mr. Giuliani!” Bowers replied, with an incredulity that’s survived more than a year of consideration.

“And what exactly did he say and how that came up?” Schiff continued.

“My recollection: He said, we’ve got lots of theories, we just don’t have the evidence,” Bowers replied. “And I don’t know if that was a gaffe or maybe he didn’t think through what he said. But both myself and others in my group, the three in my group and my counsel both remembered that specifically and afterwards we kind of laughed about it.”

With good reason. It’s ludicrous to ask people to act on a premise without providing them evidence — but more ludicrous still to simply act on the premise yourself without worrying about the predication for it in the first place.

But that — lots of theories, no evidence — was and is the heart of Trump’s approach to politics.

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Remember his first comments as a candidate, seven years ago this month. Trump came down the escalator at Trump Tower and proceeded to offer up some warmed-over right-wing commentary about the danger of criminal immigrants. This was soon debunked, but it didn’t matter. He had a theory; he didn’t have evidence. But the theory was so appealing to his base of supporters that he was rewarded for saying it. He was hailed as the sole honest man in the race because he would offer up indefensible theories as facts.

Over and over, the same pattern occurred. Trump was replete with theories about how the world worked and what the left and prior presidents had done wrong, many of these theories completely unmoored from reality. As president, he also had lots of theories about his own successes that floated just as freely. The Washington Post compiled a great big index full of examples. After all, what is “have a theory, don’t have the evidence” but a more lawyerly way of declaring “I’m saying what I want to say and that’s that”?

Giuliani should have known better than to try to press people outside of Trump’s bubble on that standard, however. Not simply because he was dealing with actual professionals who one might assume adhered more loyally to duty and honesty, but because he had recent experience with how this theory-first approach could get Trump into trouble.

In early 2020, Donald Trump was impeached by the House for attempting to strong-arm Ukraine into aiding his reelection campaign. Giuliani was at the core of that effort — and again was operating under a policy of amplifying theories before there was any evidence to support them.

He called an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July 2019 in an early effort to get Ukraine to announce an investigation into Joe Biden.

“All we need from the president is to say, I’m gonna put an honest prosecutor in charge, he’s gonna investigate and dig up the evidence that presently exists and is there any other evidence about involvement of the 2016 election,” Giuliani said, “and then the Biden thing has to be run out.” The theory was out there; now time to gin up some evidence.

To his credit, that was an occasion on which Giuliani was at least facially interested in finding evidence — or, at least, on which he saw the utility of appearing to look for some. At other times, Giuliani simply pushed out other theories about Biden and Ukraine without bothering to consider the lack of evidence underpinning them.

This approach carried over into the election. In late November 2020, Giuliani participated in an infamous news conference during which he and Trump attorney Sidney Powell outlined a truly bizarre theory of purported fraud, including allegations that electronic voting machines had been manipulated. He and Powell were sued by the manufacturer of those devices for defamation.

“It’s not my job, in a fast-moving case, to go out and investigate every piece of evidence that was given to me,” Giuliani said during a deposition in defense of the claims made at that media event. “Otherwise, you’re never going to write a story. You’ll never come to a conclusion.”

Start with the conclusion — the theory, if you will — and then maybe worry about the evidence.

Good enough for his boss. Trump and his supporters have been operating under a specific theory since Nov. 3, 2020 — that the election was somehow stolen for Joe Biden — and have not let the utter lack of evidence for that theory deter them. That’s the beauty of focusing on the theory instead of the evidence. It allows you to backfill whatever foundation you want, to add and remove pieces depending on the moment. Even when there’s no evidence, it doesn’t matter; you can simply insist, as Trump often has, that the evidence is imminent.

Lots of theories, no evidence. There are few better encapsulations of the Trumpian approach to politics.