John asked that question in his post about the video and I’m asking it again because I still don’t know the answer. There are only two possibilities. One: He did it out of basic decency, because he didn’t want to see any further mayhem perpetrated by his followers in the name of avenging a “stolen election.”

We can all agree at this point that that theory is a nonstarter, yes?

Two: He was threatened. But what could the president of the United States conceivably be threatened with to get him to submit to a humiliation that he’d avoided at all costs since November 3?

John speculated that the prospect of mass resignations by his staff might have convinced him to do it. Maybe, but would he really care about that? Does he even know who half of those people are? John also wondered if the threat of being impeached or removed by his own cabinet frightened him, which seems more plausible. Logically he wouldn’t want the distinction of being the only president impeached twice or the first president removed for incapacity. Although, again, would that bother him at this point? After two months of trying to overturn an election by hook or by crook, including inciting a mob that ransacked the Capitol, he must be well past the stage of caring about his civic legacy.

Was it … the potential loss of his Twitter account that sobered him up?

Without access to these traditional social media channels—his almost 89 million Twitter followers, his going on 33 million Facebook fans, his Instagram, his YouTube and his Twitch—can Trump continue to pack the same level of cultural and political sway?

Without Twitter, in other words, what is Trump?

“Trump’s dependence on Twitter,” Michael Cohen, his former attorney and fixer, told me, “supersedes even his basic need of oxygen to breathe.”

Meh. Trump’s need to be perceived as strong supersedes his need to breathe and last night’s video undercut that. That’s what made it strange. It had a distinct “hostage video” vibe, not unlike that segment Newsmax aired a few weeks ago debunking the election-fraud theories its hosts had pushed under threat of a defamation suit. Trump wouldn’t give up on his desperate quest to cling to power just because Jack Dorsey demanded that he do so. I’m sure he could have placated Twitter in other, less dramatic ways.

Besides, he must realize at this point that he’s destined to be banned for tweeting something outlandish shortly after he leaves office and becomes a private citizen again. Critics have demanded that he be banned now but Twitter has resisted on the theory that what the head of state says is too newsworthy to justify expelling him from the platform. That changes on January 20. So what leverage does Twitter really have over him?

He’d need a stronger incentive than social media to make him capitulate on camera this way. What could it be?


More from WaPo:

Meadows and Cipollone, among others, tried to persuade Trump to record a video condemning the violence, pledging to prosecute the rioters and committing to a peaceful transfer of power, officials said. They argued that his image and future political prospects could be permanently damaged otherwise.

Cipollone also warned the president that he could have legal liability for having encouraged the riots, a detail first reported by the New York Times, and urged him to clean it up. He and other lawyers helped the president understand that once he leaves office, he and his family would have considerable legal exposure on multiple fronts, an adviser said.

That’s … not exactly true. It is true that Trump could technically be charged with seditious conspiracy or solicitation to commit a crime of violence but it’s difficult to convict someone of those crimes under the First Amendment. And, realistically, the Biden DOJ isn’t going to upend American politics by trying to prosecute a former president unless they think the case against him is ironclad. It’d be wrenching for the country no matter the outcome and embarrassing for the new administration if Trump ended up being acquitted. There’s no ironclad case against him for what he did on Wednesday.

But maybe Cipollone was making a subtler point to him about other potential crimes he might be charged with unrelated to the attack on the Capitol. There’s a lot of pressure on Biden from the left to prosecute Trump but Biden clearly doesn’t want to do it lest his administration get sidetracked by Trump drama. Joe’s term is supposed to be about “healing” and returning to normal, right? Prosecuting Trump would make that impossible so they’re disinclined to do it — or were, before Wednesday. The country is so angry about the Capitol attack that now the pressure to prosecute him for something, anything, that he may have done wrong has increased. Cipollone may have impressed upon Trump that a conciliatory message, however belated, might keep him out of court.

Or, of course, Cipollone may have been BSing him just to try to scare Trump into behaving better. He knows the president’s unlikely to be charged with anything for the Capitol attack. He realizes that Team Joe doesn’t want to get bogged down in the politics of prosecuting an ex-president when they’re trying to unify the country. But he also understands that Trump is a total loose cannon right now and frightening him may be the only way to restrain him:

One administration official described Trump’s behavior as that of “a total monster.” Another said the situation was “insane” and “beyond the pale.”

“He is alone. He is mad King George,” said a Republican in frequent touch with the White House. “Trump believes that he has these people so intimidated they wouldn’t dare mess with him. I think Trump doesn’t understand how precarious his situation is right now.”…

People who interacted with Trump said they found him in a fragile and volatile state. “A lot of people don’t want to talk to him,” a senior administration official said. “He’s in a terrible mood constantly, and he’s defensive, and everyone knows this was a horrible mistake.”

I think the acting U.S. Attorney in Washington may be operating off the same playbook. When asked yesterday if he’d consider charging Trump with incitement, all Michael Sherwin would say is, “We’re looking at all actors here. Anyone who had a role and where the evidence fits a crime.” He’s not going to charge Trump, but it’s not the worst thing right now for the president to have to worry about it.

My guess is that the two most important people in Washington at this moment, in the sense of having the most influence to keep this plane from crashing as it lands, are defense secretary Chris Miller and Cipollone. Miller can intervene if any outlandish military orders come down the pike; Cipollone can intervene if Trump’s considering doing anything else outlandish by warning him, falsely if necessary, “Don’t you realize they could try you for treason if you do that?” Which makes this news … not good:

I’ll leave you with this, the president’s latest tweet. Last night, after his video was posted, I remembered that he also delivered a responsible scripted statement following the Charlottesville melee in 2017. But he resented it, as it didn’t express his true feelings. And then he stewed about it. And then, the next time he was in front of reporters and able to speak freely, he let it rip. That’s what’s going to happen with last night’s video too. As the warnings from Cipollone et al. recede in his mind and the pleas from his fans to “get tough” and “keep fighting” come to the forefront, he’s going to revert to the same old incitement tendencies. He’s already taken a little step here. Wait until next week.