Trump sends out one last desperate message to avoid impeachment

Trump sends out one last desperate message to avoid impeachment
President Donald J. Trump gestures to White House staff with a fist pump after disembarking Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, following his trip to Texas. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

As members of the House of Representatives debated whether to impeach President Donald Trump a second time — a vote that is all but guaranteed to succeed — the White House sent out a new message on behalf of the commander in chief. It appeared to be one last, futile effort to encourage the House not to impeach him for his role in inspiring and inciting the previous week's Capitol riot that sought to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election.

"In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind. That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for," said the statement attributed to Trump, sent out as a press release. "I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers. Thank You."

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who was leading the opposition to impeachment in the House debate, read out the statement on the floor shortly after it became public:

The call for easing all tensions was a clear signal that the president was eager to stop impeachment in its tracks. It struck a different tone than his comments to the press the previous day, when he said his speech ahead of the riot had been "totally appropriate." He also seemed to be stirring up his supporters against impeachment, saying it was "causing tremendous danger to our country and it's causing tremendous anger." At that time, he did also add: "I want no violence."

The new statement was a signal that he's aware, or at least the White House is aware, that supporters of the president are planning more demonstrations and attacks on his behalf.

And while many of the critics of the president are likely to be mildly encouraged to see the president explicitly denounce violence, it's not likely to convince them to oppose impeachment. In fact, it may suggest that impeachment is having the intended effect: pushing him to discourage his supporters from acting out violently. Since he's known to flip his position without notice, withdrawing the push for impeachment over such a statement could encourage him to dial rhetoric back up.

And even as it is, the statement also probably doesn't go far enough to really address the risks of future attacks. He didn't actually discourage any of the gatherings, many of which are explicitly planned to include armed participants. It's easy to see how such events can spiral out of control, even if — in the most hopeful scenario — Trump's supporters take the direction of "NO violence, NO lawbreaking" seriously. And his arguments for months have suggested that it's Democrats who are breaking the law, and his supporters — many of whom see themselves as aligned with law enforcement — could read his words as a call to continue to oppose Joe Biden's inauguration.

"If the man had any interest at all in easing tensions and calming tempers, he'd hold a televised press conference conceding the election, communicating that there was no evidence of fraud, that Biden will legitimately take office on the 20th, and there's no reason to protest it," said Niskanen Center's Will Wilkinson of Trump's new statement. "The fact that he won't do this is precisely why it's urgent that he be removed from office."

He added: "There's nothing in the least complicated about this. Anybody who tries to shift the focus to anything but the fact that the president has been lying for two months about unambiguous election results, which led to a violent mob trashing the Capitol, is actively stoking division."

Ryan Goodman of Just Security agreed:

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