This started on Tuesday with a tweet from NYT reporter Maggie Haberman, who spent the rest of the day being savaged by the left and the right for it.
Trump has been telling a number of people he’s in contact with that he expects he will get reinstated by August (no that isn’t how it works but simply sharing the information). https://t.co/kaXSXKnpF0
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) June 1, 2021
Righties attacked her for pushing what they believed was a smear. Lefties attacked her for paying any attention at all to Trump, who’s yesterday’s news. Both sides were kidding themselves. It’d be completely in character for Trump to embrace a delusion about the election to ease the pain of his defeat. The entire period from November 3 to January 6 is a story of him being convinced behind the scenes by conspiracy theorists like Sidney Powell that he’d been cheated and they had the evidence to prove it. At no point since Election Day has he betrayed the sense that his “stop the steal” claims are just face-saving spin which he doesn’t really believe. He believes it. It may have started as spin but he talked himself into believing it long ago.
As for the left, which derides Haberman as a Trump “stenographer,” it’s idiotic to treat Trump as any ol’ ex-president who no longer matters to politics. He’s the 2024 presumptive nominee. He dominates the party to such a total extent that major primaries, like the Senate contest in Ohio, have been reduced to competitions by the candidates to flatter him lavishly in hopes of winning his endorsement. To say that he’s the most important politician in the party would be an understatement; he’s the only important politician in the party. (Although I’d entertain an argument that Ron DeSantis now matters too.) And of course he’s a former president. If he’s in the grip of a fantasy that he’s somehow going to be returned to office, the public needs to know that urgently. It’s an essential gauge of his basic mental health.
Last night the Washington Post corroborated Haberman with a story about how fixated Trump has allegedly become on the dubious Arizona Senate ballot “audit.” He’s supposedly looking for ways to get audits going in other swing states he lost, in the belief that “their success could result in his return to the White House this year, according to people familiar with comments he has made.” That inspired Charles Cooke of NRO to start calling up sources and asking if there was anything to this or if it really was just a smear being circulated by people with an axe to grind. His answer: It’s true. And reportedly Trump thinks he won’t be the only Republican to be reinstated once the “fraud” is exposed.
I can attest, from speaking to an array of different sources, that Donald Trump does indeed believe quite genuinely that he — along with former senators David Perdue and Martha McSally — will be “reinstated” to office this summer after “audits” of the 2020 elections in Arizona, Georgia, and a handful of other states have been completed. I can attest, too, that Trump is trying hard to recruit journalists, politicians, and other influential figures to promulgate this belief — not as a fundraising tool or an infantile bit of trolling or a trial balloon, but as a fact.
It will be tempting for weary conservatives to dismiss this information as “old news” or as “an irrelevance.” It will be tempting, too, to downplay the enormity of what is being claimed, or to change the subject, or to attack the messengers by implying that they must “hate” Trump and his voters. But such temptations should be assiduously avoided. We are not talking here about a fringe figure within the Republican tent, but about a man who hopes to make support for his outlandish claims “a litmus test of sorts as he decides whom to endorse for state and federal contests in 2022 and 2024.” Conservatives understand why it mattered that the press lost its collective mind over Russia after Trump’s fair-and-square victory in 2016. They understand why it mattered that Hillary Clinton publicly described Trump as an “illegitimate president” who had “stolen” the election. And they understand why it mattered that Jimmy Carter insisted that Trump had “lost the election” and been “put into office because the Russians interfered.” They should understand why this matters, too.
The scale of Trump’s delusion is quite startling. This is not merely an eccentric interpretation of the facts or an interesting foible, nor is it an irrelevant example of anguished post-presidency chatter. It is a rejection of reality, a rejection of law, and, ultimately, a rejection of the entire system of American government.
But it’ll be interesting to see how quickly MAGA pivots from treating this as a scurrilous lie meant to hurt Trump by portraying him as off his rocker to a new party litmus test once he starts spouting off about “reinstatement” publicly, at his upcoming rallies. And Republican politicians will be forced to navigate that somehow, the latest wound inflicted on the party by the “stop the steal” travesty. Initially I expect senators and members of the House to try to wave it off when asked: “No, of course he won’t be reinstated.” But after Trump pops off at a few of them, the rest will decide that silence is the better course of action, as usual. One of the most famous lines of the post-election period came from a senior Republican official a week after Election Day, who was asked if the party should do something to try to get Trump to stop pushing conspiracy theories. “What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change,” the official said. Less than two months later, the Capitol was overrun by a mob hoping to block Biden’s victory from being certified.
What’s the downside of humoring him for a little bit of time? That’ll be the line from congressional Republicans on reinstatement fantasies too. They never learn a thing.
The question is why so many people who’ve heard Trump talk about reinstatement are suddenly whispering to reporters about it. My guess is that it’s tied to his reemergence as a political figure. He’ll address the North Carolina Republican Party at its convention on Saturday and is planning rallies in swing states this summer. If it’s true that he’s talking about being “reinstated” privately, it’s a cinch that he’s going to start talking about it publicly in front of thousands of adoring fans whom he knows will be eager to hear it. Possibly the sources leaking about this are trying to head him off at the pass by generating a public backlash before he has a chance. If he sees enough reactions along the lines of “he’s lost his g-ddamned mind,” maybe he’ll think better of it.
But probably not.
The truth is likely this simple: Republicans who’ve heard him chattering about “reinstatement” privately recognize what a poisonous idea it is. It’s not just that it’s legally impossible, it’s that attempting to further delegitimize Biden by providing false hope of a Trump restoration means months or years more of partisan dissension that’ll make the country less governable. It’s encouragement for a sort of permanent insurrection. Think back a few months to the QAnon nuts who thought Trump would seize power on January 20 at Biden’s inauguration, then, when he didn’t, on March 4. Suddenly conspiracy theorists will be obsessed with new dates for Trump’s return to office: Will it be August? Next January 20, maybe? What happens when Arizona’s bogus audit, which has been denounced as a sham even by Republican Maricopa County officials, “finds” fraud and Trump goes all-in on promoting that?
The sources whispering to Cooke and Haberman see what’s coming and they’re doing what little they can to avert it by warning people. But it’s not going to matter. Too much of the base is too far gone even without Trump egging them on; they’ll demand some sort of “action” over the Arizona thing even if Trump never says a word. And Republican politicians are too cowardly to try to set them straight, not that that effort would stand much of a chance of working either. Nothing but bad times ahead, as usual.