Oh, so many things stood out from the second day of public hearings for the House Select Committee on January 6. There are a few though that stand out from the crowd.
Trump raising $250 million on his Big Lie for a non-existence election defense fund.
Rudy Giuliani being inebriated on election night.
That there was an actually-named “Team Normal” of Republican inner-circles advisors to differentiate them from the crazy team lead by Giuliani.
Then-Attorney William Barr suggesting that Trump was detached from reality.
But I think my favorite was that the phrase “Costanza Defense” is now part of the discussion. When using a loopy theory from George Costanza on Seinfeld – “Remember, Jerry. If you believe it, it isn’t a lie” – is what you rest the explanation of your coup on, you’ve got a leaky boat.
I also learned a new expression from Ari Melber on MSNBC when analyzing the hearing afterwards. It was when describing Rudy Giuliani’s inebriation during election night. The phrase was wearing “beer goggles.” Apparently, the opposite of wearing rose-colored glasses.
(Melber also made clear that it shouldn’t matter to anyone if a person drinks in their private life, but drinking at work and excessively is another matter. And a presidential election night is not only work, but the biggest Work Day of all.)
There was a great deal more, all the confirmation of Republican inner-circle experts telling Trump he lost. All the experts telling Trump that they checked out all the conspiracy fraud theories and found all untrue. That the Fox “News” vote expert explain in meticulous and joyful, prideful detail why his election results were remarkably accurate. That people who told Trump what he didn’t want to hear about reality would get fired. And all the expert witnesses explaining how irresponsible Trump was to push the Big Lie. And more. But those highlights above stood out for me, as explaining events surrounding the coup attempt simply, at its more clear foundation.
All of which raise the question on why Trump insisted on The Big Lie. There are so many competing reasons that seem to surface.
He wanted to retain power.
He wanted to grift and raise money.
He didn’t have it in him to accept he could ever possibly lose at anything.
It is not unreasonable to think that all three are true. In fact, it’s rare that there is only “one reason” for most things. Personally, I think that’s the case here, that all three are true and intertwined. (And for all I know, there are other reasons, as well. But for now, we’re going with those three.) The only real question is which reason predominated?
It’s been pretty clear for a long while that Trump is autocratic and dictatorial. His obsessive admiration of dictators is a thing of record. His lapdog following of Putin who he calls a genius. His stated love letters with Kim Jong-Un. His support of Turkey’s Erdogan and the Saudi Royal Family. And it can’t be repeated enough – Trump praising China dictator Xi Jinping for ending presidential term limits. "He's now president for life. President for life. And he's great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll give that a shot some day"
But what’s also clear is Trump’s lifetime career as a grifter. Scamming people with things like Trump University. A lifetime littered with people suing him for not being paid. And a grifter’s got to do what a grifter’s got to do. Part of this is the need of money to pay off upcoming loan debts. But even if he didn’t need money, Trump has just shown he needs to grift.
And then there’s his inability to say he was wrong, to admit he lost, his driving need to hit someone back if they best him. As he always puts it, if you hit me, I’ll come back and hit you 10 times as hard.
Of all the reasons for Trump’s Big Lie, I think this last one is at the top. I don’t think Trump has it in him to say “I lost,” to concede defeat. The mere idea of such a thing seems soul-crushing to him. So, while he has long been an autocrat, in his company and in elected office – and while he has to grift when there’s a dollar to be stolen – I don’t think the words “I lost” can come out of his mouth, ever. Ever. I think Trump heard everyone in his Republican inner-circle say that he lost, but the concept was meaningless to him. When the Assistant Attorney General testified that every time he shot down one of the election fraud theories, Trump would accept the explanation but then come immediately back with “What about…?” the next fraud theory. There was always another “But what about…??” and always would be. Because as long as there was a fraud theory, then that meant the election was stolen and he didn’t lose. As William Bar put it, it seemed that Trump was detached from reality.
So, does that mean Trump actually thought he won? To play semantics a bit, I think it was more a case of Trump thinking he couldn’t lose. And while that’s similar, it not the same thing. Ultimately, I do think Trump heard clearly from all those experts around him telling him that he lost and understood what they were all telling him. But he couldn’t accept that, so he willfully ignored it. And the problem for Trump, from all I’ve heard from legal analysts on TV, is that willfully ignoring the truth told you by experts speaks to your consciousness of guilt.
There are also a few random tidbits that stood out for me, mostly after the fact.
One is that several lawyer analysts on TV (as well as committee member Zoe Lofgren) have suggested that Trump raising money, but especially $250 million based on a known lie is the definition of wire fraud, and could put Trump and others at additional risk.
Another is the clip that the committee played – and which has been played subsequently on the post-hearing analysis is the video of Trump saying, “Frankly, we did win this election.” Trump has a range of “tells” that he uses when he’s most-blatantly lying. And beginning a sentence with “Frankly…” leads the list.
Also, it’s watching William Barr and others admirably saying under oath all these blunt, critical, honest things about their dealings with Trump – admirable now, but reprehensible that they were silent when it mattered, not just over the past 19 months when Trump was creating his attempted coup and pushing his Big Lie, but even more importantly, during the second impeachment trial, when Trump could have been convicted and prohibited from ever running for office again.
And that all those witnesses giving this blunt, critical, honest testimony against Trump were Republicans.
And finally, how hilarious it is that the ONLY part of yesterday’s testimony that Rudy Giuliani had his attorney dispute is that…he wasn't inebriated.
No problems with anything else. Nothing to refute anything said about the Big Lie as the foundation of the attempted coup. Nothing about not being on Team Normal. Nothing about the crazy fraud theories all being looked into and all them found to be non-existent. Nothing about every expert confirming the validity of the numbers. Nothing else. Just -- "I wasn't drunk."
And of course, never mind that at least two people said under oath that he was drunk. But it’s worth than that. Because as Nicolle Wallace said later, she specifically asked Select Committee member Pete Aguilar about the claims from these two people saying Guiliani was inebriated. He said that it wasn’t just Jason Miller and Bill Stepien who testified that Guiliani was drunk, but reminded her how many people the committee interviewed and hours of material they have, noting that “We got it from a lots!!!”
And for all that, the one thing only that Rudy Giuliani has his attorney refute was that he was not drunk. Of course, too, is the reality that most people who are drunk insist they aren't drunk. It's why they get behind the wheel and drive.
In the end, I’m waiting for someone to start selling t-shirts that say, “Team Normal.”
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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