Newly revealed text messages show that Virginia “Ginni” Thomas — conservative activist and spouse of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — wanted President Trump to take extreme measures to stay in office in the days following the 2020 election. The messages between her and then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows were provided to the congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attacks and obtained by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.
One major takeaway from them is that her alarm was apparently sincere: These seem to be Thomas’s genuine beliefs, expressed in private to Trump’s top aide, when no one was looking.
Thomas shared with Meadows conspiracy theories that Trump had a secret plan to expose election fraud (“I hope this is true”) and to send its perpetrators to Guantanamo Bay, urged that Trump should “not concede” because “it takes time for the army who is gathering for his back,” said the “Left” was “attempting the greatest Heist of our History,” championed the ludicrous claims of Trump’s lawyer Sidney Powell (“Sounds like Sidney and her team are getting inundated with evidence of fraud”), complained about being “disgusted” with Vice President Mike Pence for approving the results, and declared Biden’s win meant “the end of Liberty.”
Ginni Thomas is not a government official and has no formal power. But she is an influential and well-connected activist at the top of elite conservative circles who, yes, is married to a Supreme Court justice. And her messages show precisely where she falls in the two broad groups of elite conservatives who supported Trump’s effort to overturn the election results: She’s among the conspiracy-addled true believers, rather than the cynical opportunists pandering to the base for political advantage.
In contrast, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) seems to be more in the opportunist category. Rather than full-throatedly endorsing goofy conspiracy theories, Hawley has nodded to a vaguer “concern” about the election’s integrity and calls for “investigation.” His specific justification for objecting to the results in Congress relied on a legalistic-sounding rationale: “Some states, particularly Pennsylvania, failed to follow their own state election laws.” (This was a complaint that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to count mail ballots arriving a few days after election day, but that ended up being a small number of ballots that didn’t affect the outcome.) Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) voiced a similar line.
In the other camp, along with Thomas, you have people like Sidney Powell, former national security adviser Mike Flynn, and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who embraced bizarre theories about foreign interference in the vote and pushed Trump to use ever more extreme tactics in fighting back.
The presence of both camps in the GOP is a problem for election integrity in the United States, but the latter might be the bigger problem. Cynical opportunists will go whichever way the wind is blowing. But if true-believing conspiracy theorists get elected to important offices with some role in certifying election results, they might stand by their beliefs no matter the situation.
There has long been speculation about which camp the former president falls into. Was Trump just lying? Or does he actually believe his claims that he was the rightful winner of the 2020 election? Or is that question irrelevant?
By all accounts of Trump’s private behavior, he acts, all the time, as though he believes it. No close aide has told the press or revealed any story of him acknowledging that lots of his claims were false. Texts from Fox host Sean Hannity provided to the committee indicate that Hannity was rather disturbed by how committed Trump was to an extreme course in private. “I did not have a good call with him today. And worse, I’m not sure what is left to do or say, and I don’t like not knowing if it’s truly understood,” he wrote to Meadows on January 10, 2021.
This is a potential problem regarding investigative efforts to prove Trump’s intent to commit crimes related to January 6 — if he believes he is the rightful winner, it can be trickier (though not necessarily impossible) to demonstrate he acted with corrupt intent. But it’s also worrying regarding just how closely Trump was tethered to factual reality. And because Trump is gearing up for a possible repeat presidential campaign in 2024, this is not necessarily a problem of the past. If he wins, who will he staff his administration with next time around?