On January 6, one prominent Republican after another called Donald Trump or the people near him, begging him to take decisive action to protect the U.S. Capitol from his mob of supporters, including by sending the message only he could effectively send convincing the mob to stand down. But Trump, transfixed by what he was watching on live television, didn’t respond for hours. In fact, early on, he tweeted an incitement to violence against Mike Pence.
According to The Washington Post, Trump “didn’t appear to understand the magnitude of the crisis” and was “not initially receptive” to the idea that he needed to do something to tamp down the violence. Gee, why could that be?
”He was hard to reach, and you know why? Because it was live TV,” according to one adviser. “If it’s TiVo, he just hits pause and takes the calls. If it’s live TV, he watches it, and he was just watching it all unfold.” That’s presumably why Fox News spent long stretches quoting a litany of Trump-supporting Republicans begging him to take action—in an attempt to get him to pay attention. But something else was going on here, and it needs to be said, and said again: Trump didn’t want the attack on the Capitol to stop. He was hoping it would succeed.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who, trapped inside the Capitol, called Ivanka Trump to ask her to get her father to send a strong message to his supporters, urging them to go home. “It took him awhile to appreciate the gravity of the situation,” Graham told the Post. “The president saw these people as allies in his journey and sympathetic to the idea that the election was stolen.”
Despite knowing in a very personal way that Trump did not want to stop the domestic terrorists terrorizing Congress in his name, Graham is still opposing impeachment, because “It is past time for all of us to try to heal our country and move forward.” And to Republicans, the way to move forward is by emboldening the people who did this and letting them know there will be no consequences.
Trump did not want to tell his followers to back down, and at some point, responsible people have to say out loud that it was because he was waiting and hoping the terrorists would succeed in the coup they were attempting on his behalf. He’s a grown man. “He didn’t understand” cannot stand as an excuse for standing by while his supporters trashed the Capitol, threatened Congress to keep it from doing its constitutional duty, and killed a police officer. No matter how transfixing that live TV was, Trump was watching terrorism and violence, and didn’t want to put a stop to it.
Say it. Make the Republican members of Congress whose lives were at risk understand it, and understand that the way to get out from under the fear is not to cave and cave again but to make sure this terrorism doesn’t happen again. Donald Trump was willing to risk the lives of his supporters in Congress as he actively aimed a mob at Pence in retaliation for Pence once, in more than four years of subservience, saying no.
Members of the National Guard were seething in frustration as they watched the scene play out, waiting to be called in to protect the Capitol, and Trump’s Defense Department is trying to pass off responsibility—which should not be allowed to happen. The sergeants at arms of the House and Senate and the chief of the Capitol Police are all resigning over their failures. The Pentagon needs to undergo the same kind of house-cleaning for the willingness of its leaders to sit back and watch and say “not our responsibility.” There needs to be accountability everywhere. But one place most of all.
In the final analysis Trump is the first and most responsible—for spending months convincing his supporters the election was stolen, then for spending weeks building up the January 6 event, and, on the day itself, urging the crowd to march on the Capitol with rage as their guiding instinct. He rebuffed pleas from Ivanka and from his closest aides to do what he needed to do. Because doing the thing that was right and necessary was not in line with his goal: a successful coup.