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Trump won’t say the one thing that could really calm down his followers

The president refuses to distance himself from the election lies that motivated the Capitol riot.

Trump talks to reporters on January 12 in Washington, DC.
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The official White House Twitter account on Wednesday evening posted a lengthy video of President Donald Trump denouncing violence and calling for calm ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next Wednesday. But it didn’t take long for the Trump administration and its allies to undermine his message.

In the more than five-minute video, Trump says things like, “I want to be very clear: I unequivocally condemn the violence that we saw” when a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol last week while Congress was in the process of certifying his Electoral College loss to Joe Biden, leaving at least five people dead. Alluding to threats of violence against state capitols and the presidential inauguration, Trump said, “There must be no violence, no lawbreaking, and no vandalism of any kind.”

One thing Trump does not say, however, is acknowledging the reality that his loss to Biden was legitimate and not the result of any sort of election fraud.

On the contrary, despite a complete lack of evidence, it appears Trump and some of his acolytes still believe the election was stolen from him. Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt reported for the New York Times on Wednesday evening that “on Air Force One on Tuesday, during a trip to the southern border at Alamo, Texas, the president repeatedly said of the election to people traveling with him, ‘I won.’” Then on Thursday morning, one of the few White House officials still willing to publicly defend Trump, Peter Navarro, went on Fox News and spread the same sort of lies about the election that inspired the rioters.

“The Democratic Party did violence to this country by attacking a president who I believe was legally elected on November 3,” Navarro said, adding that “74 million Americans out there” are “pissed off” like him.

“We know that there were irregularities in this election,” host Maria Bartiromo replied, citing no evidence, and despite the fact that Trump’s own government officials have characterized the 2020 election as the most secure on record.

If Trump was really concerned about preventing another explosion of violence, he would acknowledge to his followers that his loss to Biden was legitimate and his claims of election fraud were made up, and properly concede the election. But he’s not doing that.

“All Donald Trump has to say to calm tensions down is one sentence: ‘The election was not stolen’”

Trump’s new video was posted hours after a bipartisan majority of the House of Representatives voted to impeach him on a count of “incitement of insurrection” for his role in last Wednesday’s riot, including a speech he delivered to thousands of his followers just before it in which he invoked “fight” or “fighting” more than 20 times. While the House debated the article of impeachment on Wednesday, Trump released a tweet-like statement to Fox News that struck a similar note to his subsequent video, generically denouncing violence while abstaining from retracting any of his election lies.

The riot and Trump’s defiant response to it have turned him into a pariah like never before. On Friday, Twitter permanently banned his account, citing tweets he posted on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday that potentially provided “encouragement to those potentially considering violent acts.” The Times reports that Trump’s aides “have warned him that he faces potential legal exposure for the riot.”

Even if Trump isn’t prosecuted, he’s done significant damage to his brand. The PGA Tour announced on Sunday it’s moving an upcoming tournament from the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and financial and banking companies ranging from the online payment processing company Stripe to Deutsche Bank, which holds a significant amount of Trump’s personal debt, have announced in recent days that they’ll no longer do business with him.

Although he now has less than a week left in his term as president, Trump still has political motives for trying to distance himself from the unrest. Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey, and Ashley Parker reported for the Washington Post on Wednesday that Trump was persuaded to film the video the White House posted on Wednesday evening by aides who told him “it could boost support among weak Republicans” ahead of a possible impeachment trial in the Senate.

Even so, Trump doesn’t appear to be totally sold that taking a stand against violence is the right move for him. The Times reported that even after the video was recorded and posted, “Trump still had to be reassured, according to administration officials.”

Trump’s video has to be viewed through this prism of his own self-interest. As House impeachment manager Ted Lieu (D-CA) said on MSNBC on Thursday, “All Donald Trump has to say to calm tensions down is one sentence: ‘The election was not stolen.’” Not only has Trump been unwilling to do that, but Navarro’s comments indicate the extent to which incendiary lies about the election continue to hold sway in the White House.

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