Seven years into Donald Trump’s career in politics and decades into his tenure as an American public figure, you do not expect suddenly to see a Trump you’ve never seen before.
“My only goal was to ensure the integrity of the vote,” he said — and then a flash of fury. A face at odds with Trump’s public persona, even when he’s trying to convey his frustrations. It was one of the few moments in which we got to see both Trump’s temper and the extent of his frustration that the presidency was slipping away from him.
Revealing — but not as important as another clip from those outtakes.
“This election is now over,” Trump said at one point in the portions shown on Thursday night. Reading from a teleprompter, he continued: “Congress has certified the results.”
“I don’t want to say the election is over,” he said to his staff, assembled behind the camera. “I just want to say … Congress has certified the results without saying the election is over, okay?”
His daughter Ivanka chimed in. Maybe, “But Congress has certified”? No, better: “Now, Congress has certified.”
“Yeah, right,” Trump added. The adjustments were made. “I didn’t say over. So now let me see. Go to the paragraph before.”
The taping continued. The admission that the election had been settled was excised. “Now, Congress has certified the results” was the line included in the speech.
One can read this as petulance. The president, so desperate to avoid the perception that he was unpopular or a loser that he concocted a sweeping, dishonest counternarrative about fraud, remained unable to concede his own failure: He knew it was over but didn’t want to say it. And that may, in fact, have been the case.
It is more likely, though, that Trump believed the fight might somehow go on — that, with 13 days left in his tenure, there still might be some crack in the system to be pried open, some mechanism by which the moving trucks could be kept at bay. He had refused for two months to say he had lost, hoping that his supporters would believe him, and it worked. They believed him so much that they beat up police officers and forced members of Congress into hiding as they rampaged through the Capitol on Jan. 6. So, who knows? Release a video to calm the hand-wringers worried about the riot and then press on with the fight, just as he had released a video in the aftermath of the “Access Hollywood” tape in October 2016 before quickly going back on the offensive.
Consider another revelation from Thursday’s hearing: that his last comment on leaving the Oval Office on the evening of Jan. 6 was a lamentation not about the day’s violence but about Vice President Mike Pence having let him down. He went to bed that night thinking not about the violence he had brought on the country but about how he’d been wronged. He got up the next morning, put on his tie and began taping a video in which he declined to say the election was over.
His next words after “Congress has certified” were that “a new administration will be inaugurated on January 20th,” but this is what he knew he needed to say in that video in that moment. What he didn’t say was that he lost fairly and that the election had been settled once and for all. So, in short order, he began once again trying to convince the country that 2020 vote had not been settled. He has continued trying to do so, just last week pressing a Wisconsin legislator to act to reverse an election decided 20 months ago.
This was one point raised by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) in his comments at the end of Thursday’s hearing.
“The forces Donald Trump ignited that day have not gone away,” Kinzinger said. “The militant, intolerant ideologies, the militias, the alienation and the disaffection, the weird fantasies and disinformation: They’re all still out there, ready to go. That’s the elephant in the room.”
Not only have the forces that Trump stoked and summoned not gone away, but Trump also continues to stoke them and summon them. On Jan. 6 itself, he refused to leverage his power against the rioters, and he praised and coddled them in his public statements. Then, in the new light of the following day, he refused to say that his crusade had come to an end. Trump’s acknowledgment of an incoming Biden administration was a statement of fact, not a declaration of surrender, and Trump has spent every day since that speech trying to get Biden out of the White House. Jan. 6 chastened much of the country. It did not chasten Trump.
But, you know. His goal had simply been to ensure the integrity of the vote.