Trump accuses Bill Barr and Mark Zuckerberg of stealing Pennsylvania election in angry letter to WSJ

Former President Donald Trump accused Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his own former Attorney General William Barr of helping to steal Pennsylvania's election in 2020 in an angry letter written to the Wall Street Journal.

Specifically, Trump took issue with a WSJ editorial published on Monday that accurately claimed Biden defeated Trump by more than 80,000 votes in Pennsylvania.

"Well actually, the election was rigged, which you, unfortunately, still haven't figured out," Trump claimed. "Here are just a few examples of how determinative the voter fraud in Pennsylvania was."

The former president then went through a series of previously debunked claims about "fraud" in Pennsylvania's election, which also included two claims about Barr and Zuckerberg.

"Attorney General Bill Barr ordered U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain to stand down and not investigate election irregularities," Trump complained in one part of the letter. "Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook poured over $17 million to interfere in the Pennsylvania election, including $5.5 million on "ballot processing equipment" in Philadelphia and $552,000 for drop boxes where the voting pattern was not possible."

Trump also cited standard claims about "phantom" voters of the kind that were debunked in the Arizona "audit" of the 2020 race, as well as "numerous reports and sworn affidavits attested to poll watcher intimidation and harassment, many by brute force."

Read the whole letter here.

Dr. Birx admits the truth about Trump's crime against humanity

Is playing politics with a deadly pandemic a crime against humanity? The Brazilian Senate thinks so, and has backed a report calling for charges against President Jair Bolsonaro over his handling of COVID-19.

The committee that prepared the report had originally called for Bolsonaro to be charged with genocide and mass homicide against the indigenous people of Brazil as well but those charges were removed by the larger Senate before the vote. Whether the crimes against humanity charges will be sent to the International Criminal Court for investigation and adjudication is unknown. If they are, it will be a first.

The 1,300-page report also calls for eight other charges against Bolsonaro, including misuse of public funds and spreading fake news about the pandemic as well as falsification of documents and incitement to crime, which they referred to Brazil's top prosecutor, an ally of the president who is unlikely to prosecute.

Brazil's death toll is huge — second only to the United States — with over 600,000 deaths and counting. That nation's first wave was monstrous, with mass graves and overwhelming hospital overload. When the second hit, medical facilities were so ill-prepared that they ran out of oxygen. Bolsonaro's response has been to tell people to "stop whining" about "the little flu." He refused necessary lockdown measures from the beginning and relentlessly pushed snake oil cures like hydroxychloroquine. He has disparaged vaccines, masks and other public health measures.

Brazil is a signatory to the International Criminal Court so it could theoretically agree to hear the case should it be forwarded to them. The law seems pretty straightforward, according to this analysis by Jen Kirby at Vox:

A crime against humanity exists "when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack." "other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health."

Kirby spoke with David Scheffer, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, who told her that the "catchall nature" of the last part of the statute was deliberate:

It is obvious that other types of assaults on your civilian population are going to emerge in the future, and you have to provide for that in the statute. It's hard to think of a better example than intentional mismanagement of a Covid-19 pandemic or some other pathogen. And so I would argue that, yes, that's fair game.

Bolsonaro defiantly says that he is guilty of "absolutely nothing" despite his decisions to allow the virus to spread through the country in pursuit of "herd immunity" which basically translated to "let 'er rip." And he has continued to spread disinformation. Just this week, Facebook and Youtube removed a video in which the Brazilian president falsely claimed a link between COVID-19 vaccines and AIDS.

You will no doubt recall that Bolsonaro and Donald Trump were great friends and kindred spirits during Trump's term. They saw eye to eye on many things, but perhaps on nothing so much as the proper response to the pandemic.

In March of 2020, as the virus was starting to spread quickly, the Brazilian leader visited Trump's private club, Mar-a-Lago, and that became one of the earliest Trump super-spreading events when Bolsonaro's press secretary tested positive for the virus after meeting with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others. Bolsonaro came away from the meeting inspired by Trump, telling his health minister "that life was normal at Mar-a-Lago, everything was cured, and that hydroxychloroquine was the medicine that was supposed to be used. From that time on, it was very hard to get him to take the science seriously."

We all saw the similarities between Bolsonaro and Trump's reaction to the pandemic in real-time.

They both downplayed the virus and were obsessively concerned with the economic fallout, leading them to lean on scientists to fudge the numbers. Both of them were constantly out in public exposing themselves and others to the virus and they each recommended unscientific cure-alls while ignoring the public health recommendations that actually mitigated the worst of the virus. Trump really wanted to take credit for the vaccines, but has been forced to downplay that achievement due to skepticism among his followers, while Bolsonaro just comes right out and says they don't work. Their record in the pandemic is astonishingly similar.

Here in the U.S., the task of investigating what happened with the pandemic has fallen to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which has kept a pretty low profile these last few months. But on Tuesday they took the testimony of Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump's COVID-19 coordinator. According to the New York Times, Birx reiterated her earlier shocking claim that at least 130,000 lives were unnecessarily lost because the administration refused to do everything it could to ensure the nation followed the public health recommendations to mitigate the spread of the disease.

But in her testimony this week she also said that as the pandemic wore on into the summer and fall, the administration became distracted by the presidential campaign and pretty much lost interest in the crisis. In other words, a lot of people died so that Donald Trump could get elected.

When asked if she felt Trump did everything he could to save lives, Birx replied, "no."

She also complained about the malign influence of Dr. Scott Atlas, the radiologist who caught Trump's eye on Fox News and was brought in to push the idea that the country should seek "herd immunity," just as Bolsonaro had tried to do in Brazil. Birx testified that Atlas even brought to the White House the three physicians who later authored the "Great Barrington Declaration," which called for deliberately hastening herd immunity. Trump was all in:

Bolsonaro and members of his family are under fire for corruption as well and there is a good chance he may face jail time as well as a tough re-election campaign next year. And then there is the little matter of the crimes against humanity charges that could be before the International Criminal Court.

His good friend and inspiration, Donald Trump, is in a similar situation — although he has three more years to try to make everyone forget his terrible response to the pandemic. Trump needn't worry about the ICC, of course. The U.S. isn't a signatory. The powers that be thought signing on to it might result in U.S. troops being accused of war crimes. I doubt they anticipated that a U.S. president might be accused of facilitating the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his own citizens. Donald Trump has always been a very lucky guy in that way.

'Is he embarrassed?': Biden baits Trump in mocking speech for the Virginia governor's race

President Joe Biden on Tuesday called out Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin for trying to distance himself from former President Donald Trump in his bid to win the increasingly blue state.

Youngkin has tried to walk a fine line in his race against Democrat Terry McAuliffe, hoping to avoid alienating both the Trump base that he needs to turn out on Election Day and independent and suburban voters who view the former president far less favorably. The former private equity executive has not campaigned with Trump and at one point even seemingly sought to tie McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor, to the ex-president, prompting Trump to reassert his "complete and total" endorsement for Youngkin's campaign.

"Terry's opponent has made all of his private pledges of loyalty to Donald Trump. But what is really interesting to me is he won't stand next to Donald Trump now that the campaign is on," Biden said during a McAuliffe rally in Arlington. "Think about it. He won't allow Donald Trump to campaign with him in this state… He is willing to pledge his loyalty to Trump in private, why not in public? What is he trying to hide? Is there a problem with Trump being here? Is he embarrassed?"

During the Republican primary campaign, Youngkin refused to acknowledge Biden's election victory and has called for a voting machine "audit," an apparent signal toward Trump's false claims of fraud — especially since Virginia conducts such audits on a regular basis. Biden on Tuesday argued that Youngkin has "embraced" Trump's "big lie."

"I ran against Donald Trump. And Terry is running against an acolyte of Donald Trump," Biden said. "Terry's opponent doesn't like to talk about him very much now, but to win the Republican nomination, he embraced Donald Trump. He started his campaign by saying that the No. 1 issue in the race was… election integrity. Now, why did he do that? Because he wanted to hear Donald Trump? It was a price he'd have to pay for the nomination, and he paid it. But now, he doesn't want to talk about Trump anymore. Well, I do."

Former President Barack Obama also hit the campaign trail for McAuliffe over the weekend, calling out Youngkin's attempt to dance around Trump's false election claims.

"Either [Youngkin] actually believes in the same conspiracy theories that resulted in a mob, or he doesn't believe it but he is willing to go along with it, to say or do anything to get elected," Obama said on Saturday. " And maybe that's worse ... because that says something about character."

Christian Martinez, a spokesperson for Youngkin, told NBC News that Obama's speech promoted "the fantasies of Terry and the left because they can't run on their failed record and radical vision for the future."

The McAuliffe campaign has seized on Youngkin's attempt to distance himself from Trump, who is widely unpopular in Virginia, where Biden won by 10 points last year and Democrats have dominated most recent statewide elections. McAuliffe, who previously served as the state's governor from 2014 to 2018, has offered to pay for Trump's travel expenses so the ex-president can campaign for Youngkin. Democrats have also sent out mailers touting Trump's endorsement of Youngkin.

But despite Biden's popularity in 2020, his approval in Virginia has slipped nine points from earlier this year to 48%, according to a recent Morning Consult poll. McAuliffe won his 2013 race by just two points, and polls currently show him with a very slim 1.5-point lead, according to FiveThirtyEight's polling average. (Virginia governors may not run for re-election, but a former governor is not barred from seeking the office again.)

Youngkin has largely focused the final days of the campaign on education amid widespread conservative panic over "critical race theory," calling for parents to dictate their children's school curriculum. McAuliffe fired back at a recent debate, arguing that parents should not be "telling schools what they should teach." Youngkin this week launched a new ad featuring a mother who tried to get Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 novel "Beloved" banned from schools, claiming that her nearly college-aged son suffered from "night terrors" due to the book's graphic depiction of slavery. The state legislature twice passed bills that would allow parents to opt their children out of reading books with explicit content but McAuliffe vetoed both bills.

"Just look how he's closing his campaign," Biden said on Tuesday. "He's gone from banning a woman's right to choose to banning books written by a Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize-winning author, Toni Morrison."

Obama also attacked Youngkin for focusing on manufactured outrage over school curricula.

"We don't have time to be wasting on these phony trumped-up culture wars, this fake outrage that right-wing media peddles to juice their ratings," he said Saturday. "And the fact that he's willing to go along with it, instead of talking about serious problems that actually affect serious people. That's a shame."

Some MAGA Republicans fear they’re too 'focused on conspiracies' to win elections

Republican lawmakers have spent the greater part of the year drafting controversial pieces of legislation influenced by former President Donald Trump's false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.

While the vast majority of Trump loyalists were in support of his efforts to overturn the election, some are now concerned that the whole conspiracy has gone a bit too far, reports Politico. Hogan Gidley, who worked as the 2019 - 2020 Press Secretary for Trump's White House, has worked to distance his group from those that continue to circulate false claims.

"People are going to do whatever they want, and I can't answer for any of those other groups," said Gidley.

Gidley, who is now overseeing the Center for Election Integrity at the right-leaning America First Policy Institute also expressed concern about how ongoing audits, discussions of "machine rigging" and plots of foreign election intervention could lead to a decrease in voter turnout.

"But as it relates to election integrity and voter protection, it is vital that we help states get these simple, popular security mechanisms in place to ensure honesty for the 2022 midterms," Gidley said, adding, "I want to make sure that the data we gather and the information we share is built on solid ground as opposed to sinking sand."

Republican Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) also expressed concern about the ongoing conspiracy theories and how they are taking away from the party's political goals.

"When my fellow Republicans are focused on the wrong things, when they're focused on conspiracies about secret algorithms on voting machines, and they're focused on ideas there is a group of ballots printed in China snuck in the back door of the board of elections — all those things are easily disproven," said LaRose. "But a focus on those things distracts from what I consider the real concerns about election integrity."

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams (R), who appeared before the Senate to give his testimony on Tuesday, October 26, also detailed how serious and damaging misinformation could be for the Republican Party.

"That's the biggest mistake Republicans are making in state legislatures and Democrats are making in Congress," Adams said. "When you do this on a one party basis, the other side thinks you're trying to cheat them, and you can't make policy that way."

While Trump is still verbally expressing his disapproval of the election outcome and making efforts to advance his political agenda, some Republicans believe it's time to focus more on the future. Speaking at "Meet the Press," Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) made his stance clear.

"I'm of the view that the best thing that President Trump could do to help us win majorities in 2022 is talk about the future," Blunt said. "[B]etter off to talk about the future than to focus on the past in every election."

The evidence is mounting that top Trumpworld figures had foreknowledge of potential Jan. 6 violence

Hunter Walker of Rolling Stone interviewed two anonymous Republican activists who helped organize the January 6 rally at the Ellipse where President Trump ordered his supporters to "take back their country" just before the mob assaulted the Capitol. Legislators had gathered there to certify Joe Biden's victory. Trump was impeached largely based on the statements he made at that rally.

These two anonymous sources, identified as "an organizer" and "a planner," say they are in contact with the House Select Committee investigating the insurrection and both expect to be called to testify. MAGAland is a hive of deceit and vainglory, so proceed with caution.

The Rolling Stone piece has gotten a lot of attention based on Planner and Organizer's vague assertion that various extremist Republican members of Congress were involved in planning the rally on the Ellipse in some capacity. Some, like Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, spoke at the rally, which implies at least some level of cooperation. Another explosive claim is that Rep. Paul Gosar promised blanket pardons, which he said had been approved by Trump. Maybe, maybe not. If Walker inquired as to why pardons would be an incentive for an event conceived as a peaceful protest, the piece makes no mention of it.

But here's where the story really gets interesting: "The two sources also claim they interacted with members of Trump's team, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who they describe as having had an opportunity to prevent the violence."

This sentence reminded me of a June 25 story by Josh Kaplan and Joaquin Sapien of ProPublica entitled "New Details Suggest Senior Trump Aides Knew Jan. 6 Rally Could Get Chaotic." Their story delves into a power struggle within MAGAland in the run-up to January 6. The story makes a strong case, backed by named sources and text messages, that the White House was warned by their own organizers that Stop the Steal was planning a potentially violent march on the Capitol.

On December 19, Donald Trump issued a Twitter invitation to his followers: "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!" Thus began a bitter intra-MAGA power struggle over which faction was going to organize the protest and what would take place.

One faction included Tea Party co-founder Amy Kremer, the head of the anti-feminist organization Women for America First, and Steve Bannon associate Dustin Stockman. This faction allegedly wanted to hold an "extended oral argument" on January 6 detailing their (non-existent) evidence of systemic election fraud. Kremer and her allies got the upper hand and secured the permit for the main rally on the Ellipse, at which the soon-to-be-ex president spoke on January 6.

The more extreme faction was Stop the Steal, led by Ali Alexander, and featuring conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, dirty trickster Roger Stone, anti-feminist Kimberly Fletcher and retired reki practitioner turned right wing organizer Cindy Chafian. Alexander openly embraced paramilitary groups like Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers and racists like Nick Fuentes and the groypers. Stop the Steal favored a confrontational approach.

So much so that they doubted they could get a permit to rally under their real name, given the violence and intimidation that had marred previous Stop the Steal events across the country. A Stop the Steal organizer confirmed to ProPublica that "One Nation Under God" was a front name used to get their permit to rally on Capitol grounds. Alexander later bragged in a livestream that Reps. Gosar, Brooks and Andy Biggs helped him come up with the idea for a march to put maximum pressure on lawmakers gathered to certify the election.

Ellipse organizers told ProPublica that as January 6 approached, they worried Stop the Steal was planning an unauthorized march that would arrive at the Capitol just as election results were being certified.

Bannon associate Dustin Stockton told ProPublica that he and Amy Kremer, the Tea Party co-founder, tried warning former White House employee Katrina Pierson about the danger posed by Stop the Steal's march. When that didn't work, Stockman said, they took their concerns up the chain of command to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Kremer now denies doing so, but the record says otherwise.

"The WH and team Trump are aware of the situation with Ali and Cindy," Kremer wrote in a text message obtained by ProPublica.

Rolling Stone appears to describe a dynamic very similar to the one laid out in the ProPublica piece: Ellipse organizers getting nervous about Stop the Steal's capacity for violence, reaching out to Katrina Pierson with their concerns and finally to Mark Meadows.

"Katrina was like our go-to girl," Organizer told Rolling Stone. "She was like our primary advocate." Rolling Stone continues:

Both sources also describe Trump's White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, as someone who played a major role in the conversations surrounding the protests on Jan. 6. Among other things, they both say concerns were raised to Meadows about Alexander's protest at the Capitol and the potential that it could spark violence.

Amy Kremer has been subpoenaed to testify, as of October 25.

Dustin Stockman has not.

Republicans seem desperate to make sure 2022 isn't about Trump

Donald Trump has already turned into a drag on the Republican Party's midterm prospects, and GOP lawmakers know it.

That's why Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who's heading up the Senate GOP's midterm efforts, really desperately wants to talk about anything but Trump.

Scott, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told a group of reporters that President Joe Biden is "our best asset right now." Scott rooted his comments in an internal GOP poll of 1,200 suburban voters nationwide, putting Biden's approval rating underwater and showing that a majority of them think the country is on the "wrong track."

From a historical perspective, a president's approval rating is usually predictive of how well their party does in midterm elections. As wrote in March, "In the last four (2006, 2010, 2014, 2018), the incumbent president's disapproval rating was higher than his approval, and in all four cases, the president's party lost a sizable bloc of House seats. (The Senate results aren't quite as tied to presidential approval.)"

One recent exception to that rule was in 2002, after the 9/11 attack, when a rally-around-the-flag mentality buoyed George W. Bush's approval ratings, and Republicans netted eight seats in the House.

So Scott isn't wrong to hope that Biden's approvals remain underwater. That said, it's entirely possible that Biden's low approval ratings will recover, at least somewhat, particularly if Democrats manage to deliver both the bipartisan infrastructure deal and his Build Back Better jobs bill. (After notching a major early win with pandemic relief, Biden has been dogged for months by the delta variant, the Afghanistan withdrawal, and the inability of Democrats to push through his major agenda items.)

But the truth is, we have no way of forecasting Biden's approval ratings a year from now—or even six months from now. And what Scott's swagger entirely ignores is the corrosive effect Trump is already having on the GOP electorate, and the candidates to whom Senate Republicans will be asking voters to entrust their futures.

Look no further than Georgia, where Trump has now cleared the field for violence-prone abuser Herschel Walker to be the GOP's Senate nominee. This week, establishment Republicans officially began surrendering to Trump's bizarro pick for the critical race when Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, threw his support behind Walker.

So sure, we can look at approval ratings. But there's simply no historic measure for a party tethering itself to a twice-impeached defeated presidential incumbent who incited an attempted coup to maintain power indefinitely. And there's no historic measure for a party empowering that same mad man to handpick nearly every GOP candidate in all of the most hotly contested congressional races.

Scott bragged of the poll, "If I was a Democrat looking at this, it should scare the living daylights out of me."

But when asked about Trump's dominance in selecting GOP nominees, Politico reports, "Scott — without mentioning Trump directly by name — also insisted that endorsements aren't that important by noting that he won the Florida GOP primary for governor in 2010 despite widespread opposition."

Because according to Scott, the U.S. political landscape today hasn't shifted one iota since 2010, when the Republican Party—by today's standards—still seemed relatively sane and perhaps even interested (or maybe just resigned) to the notion of America remaining a democracy.

Republicans want to talk about President Biden right now for obvious reasons, but there's no guarantee that his approval ratings will stay where they are.

What Republicans absolutely don't want to talk about is Donald Trump and his conspiracy-driven obsession with the 2020 election results.

And while Biden's future approval ratings are a mystery to us all, Trump's preferred topic conversation is not: He will spend the rest of his days on this planet baselessly griping about the unfairness of the 2020 elections. And so long as he controls the GOP, that obsession will drive every election message and nearly every significant candidate selection regardless of what poll Rick Scott waves around in reporters' faces.

Two words: Herschel Walker.

I've witnessed a coup attempt before — and history bodes poorly for America's future

As an eyewitness, I can recall the events of January 6th in Washington as if they were yesterday. The crowds of angry loyalists storming the building while overwhelmed security guards gave way. The slavishly loyal vice-president who would, the president hoped, restore him to power. The crush of media that seemed confused, almost overwhelmed, by the crowd's fury. The waiter who announced that the bar had run out of drinks and would soon be closing…

Hold it! My old memory's playing tricks on me again. That wasn't the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. That was the Manila Hotel in the Philippines in July 1986. Still, the two events had enough similarities that perhaps I could be forgiven for mixing them up.

I've studied quite a number of coups in my day, yet the one I actually witnessed at the Manila Hotel remains my favorite, not just because the drinks kept coming, but for all it taught me about the damage a coup d'état, particularly a political coup, can do to any democracy. In February 1986, a million Filipinos thronged the streets of Manila to force dictator Ferdinand Marcos into exile. After long years of his corruption and callous indifference to the nation's suffering, the crowds cheered their approval when Marcos finally flew off to Hawaii and his opponent in the recent presidential election restored democracy.

But Marcos had his hard-core loyalists. One Sunday afternoon, four months after his flight, they massed in a Manila park to call for the restoration of their beloved president. After speakers had whipped the crowd of 5,000 into a frenzy with — and yes, this should indeed sound familiar in 2021 — claims about a stolen election, thousands of ordinary Filipinos pushed past security guards and stormed into the nearby Manila Hotel, a storied symbol of their country's history. Tipped off by one of the Filipino colonels plotting that coup, I was standing in the hotel's entryway at 5:00 p.m. as the mob, fury written on their faces, surged past me.

For the next 24 hours, that hotel's marbled lobby became the stage for an instructive political drama. From my table at the adjoining bar, I watched as armed warlords, ousted Marcos cronies, and several hundred disgruntled soldiers paraded through the lobby on their way to the luxury suites where the coup commanders had checked themselves in. Following in their wake were spies from every nation — Australian secret intelligence, American defense intelligence, and their Asian and European counterparts — themselves huddled in groups, whispering mysteriously, trying (just like me) to make sense of the bizarre spectacle unfolding around them.

Later that same evening, Marcos's former vice-president, the ever-loyal Arturo Tolentino, appeared at the head of the stairs flanked by a security detail to announce the formation of a "legitimate" new government authorized by Marcos who had reportedly called long-distance from Honolulu. As the vice president proclaimed himself acting president and read off the names of those to be in his cabinet, Filipino journalists huddling nearby scribbled notes. They were furiously trying to figure out whether there was a real coalition forming that could topple the country's democracy. It was, however, just the usual suspects — Marcos cronies, leaders largely without followers.

By midnight, the party was pretty much over. Our waiter, after struggling for hours to maintain that famed hotel's standard of five-star service, apologized to our table of foreign correspondents because the bar had been drunk dry and was closing. Sometime before dawn, the hotel turned off the air conditioning, transforming those executive suites into saunas and, in the process, flushing out the coup plotters, their hangers-on, and most of the soldiers.

All day long, on the city's brassy talk-radio stations and in the coffee shops where insiders gathered to swap scuttlebutt, Marcos's loyalists were roasted, even mocked. The troops that had rallied to his side were sentenced to 30 push-ups on the parade ground — a source of more mirth. For spies and correspondents alike, the whole thing seemed like a one-day wonder, barely worth writing home about.

But it wasn't. Not by a long shot. A coterie of colonels deep inside the Defense Ministry, my source among them, had observed that comedic coup attempt all too carefully and concluded that it had actually been a near-miss.

A year later, I found myself standing in the middle of an eight-lane highway outside the city's main military cantonment, Camp Aguinaldo, ducking bullets from rebel soldiers who had seized the base and watching as government Marines and dive bombers attacked. This time, however, those colonels had launched a genuine coup attempt. No drinks. No waiters. No wisecracks. Just a day of bombs and bullets that crushed the plotters, leaving the country's military headquarters a smoking ruin.

Two years later, the same coup colonels were back again for another attempt, leading 3,000 rebel troops in a multipronged attack on a capital that trembled on the brink of surrender. As a cavalcade of rebel armor drove relentlessly toward the presidential palace with nothing in their way, American President George H.W. Bush took a call aboard Air Force One over the Atlantic about a desperate request from his Philippine counterpart and ordered a pair of U.S. Air Force jet fighters to make a low pass over the rebel tanks and trucks. They got the message: turn back or be bombed into extinction. And so Philippine democracy was allowed to survive for another 30 years.

Message from the Manila Hotel

The message for democracy offered from the Manila Hotel was clear — so clear, in fact, that it helps explain the meaning of tangled events in Washington more than 30 years later. Whether it's a poor country like the Philippines or a superpower like the United States, democracy is a surprisingly fragile construct. Its worst enemy is often an ousted ex-president, angry over his humiliation and perfectly willing to destroy the constitutional order to regain power.

No matter how angry such an ex-president might be, however, his urge for a political coup can't succeed without the help of raw force, whether from a mob, a disgruntled military, or some combination of the two. The Manila Hotel coup teaches us one other fundamental thing: that coups need not be carefully planned. Most start with a handful of conspirators plotting some symbolic attack meant to shake the constitutional order, while hoping to somehow stall the security services for a few critical hours — just long enough for events to cascade spontaneously into a desired government collapse.

Whether in Manila or Washington, coup plotting usually starts right at the top. Just after the news networks announced that he had lost the election last November, Donald Trump launched a media blitz with spurious claims of "fraud on the American public," firing off 300 tweets in the next two weeks loaded with false charges of irregularities and sparking loud, long protests by his loyalists at vote-counting centers in Michigan and Arizona.

When that response got little traction and Biden's majority kept climbing, Trump began exploring three alternate routes, any of which might have led to a constitutional coup — manipulating the Justice Department to delegitimize the election, rigging the ratification of electoral votes in Congress, and the paramilitary (or military) option. At a White House meeting on December 18th, Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security advisor, urged the president to "invoke martial law as part of his efforts to overturn the election" and accused his staff of "abandoning the president," sparking "screaming matches" in the Oval Office.

By January 3rd, rumors and reports of Trump's military option were circulating so credibly around Washington that all 10 living former defense secretaries — Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Mark Esper, among them — published a joint appeal to the armed forces to remain neutral in the ongoing dispute over the election's integrity. Reminding the troops that "peaceful transfers of power… are hallmarks of our democracy," they added that "efforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes" would be "dangerous, unlawful, and unconstitutional." They warned the troops that any "military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be… potentially facing criminal penalties." In conclusion, they suggested to Trump's secretary of defense and senior staff "in the strongest terms" that "they must…refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election."

To legitimate his claims of fraud, according to the New York Times, the president also tried — on nine separate occasions in December and January — to force the Justice Department to take actions that would "undermine an election result." In response, a mid-ranking Trump loyalist at Justice, a nonentity named Jeffrey Clark, began pressuring his boss, the attorney-general, to write Georgia officials claiming they had found "significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election." But at a three-hour White House meeting on January 3rd, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen balked at this evidence-free accusation. Trump promptly suggested that he could be replaced by that mid-ranking loyalist who could then send the fraud letter to Georgia. The president's own top appointees at Justice, along with the White House counsel, immediately threatened to resign en masse, forcing Trump to give up on such an intervention at the state level.

Next, he shifted his constitutional maneuvering to Congress where, on January 6th, his doggedly loyal vice president, Mike Pence, would be presiding over the ratification of results from the Electoral College. In this dubious gambit, Trump was inspired by a bizarre constitutional theory advanced by former Chapman University law professor John Eastman — that the "Constitution assigns the power to the Vice President as the ultimate arbiter."

In this scenario, Pence would unilaterally set aside electoral votes from seven states with "ongoing disputes" and announce that Trump had won a majority of the remaining electors — making him once again president. But the maneuver had no basis in law, so Pence, after scrambling desperately and unsuccessfully for a legal justification of some sort, eventually refused to play along.

A Political Coup

With the constitutional option closed, Trump opted for a political coup, rolling the dice with raw physical force, much as Marcos had done at the Manila Hotel. The first step was to form a crowd with some paramilitary muscle to stiffen the assault to come. On December 19th, Trump called on his hard-core followers to assemble in Washington, ready for violence, tweeting: "Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!"

Almost immediately, the Internet's right-wing chat boards lit up and indeed their paramilitaries, the Proud Boys and Three Percenters militia, turned up in Washington on the appointed day, ready to rumble. After President Trump roused the crowd at a rally near the White House with rhetoric about a stolen election, a mob of some 10,000 marched on the Capitol Building.

Starting at about 1:00 p.m., the sheer size of the crowd and strategic moves by the paramilitaries in their ranks broke through the undermanned lines of the Capitol Police, breaching the building's first-floor windows at about 2:10 p.m. and allowing protesters to start pouring in. Once the rioters had accomplished the unimaginable and seized the Capitol, they were fresh out of plans, reduced to marching through the corridors hunting legislators and trashing offices.

At 2:24 p.m., President Trump tweeted: "Mike Pence didn't have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country." On the far-right social media site Parler, his supporters began messaging the crowd to get the vice president and force him to stop the election results. The mob rampaged through the marbled halls shouting "Hang Mike Pence." Hunkered down inside the Capitol, Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois) tweeted: "This is a coup attempt."

At 2:52 p.m., Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-Virginia), a former CIA agent, tweeted from inside the barricaded House chamber: "This is what we see in failing countries. This is what leads to the death of democracy."

At 3:30 p.m., a small squad of military police arrived at the Capitol, woefully inadequate reinforcements for the overwhelmed Capitol Police. Ten minutes later, the D.C. Council announced that the Defense Department had denied the mayor's request to mobilize the local National Guard. While the crowd fumbled and fulminated, some serious people were evidently slowing the military's response for just the few critical hours needed for events to cascade into something, anything, that could shake the constitutional order and slow the ratification of Joe Biden's election.

In nearby Maryland, Republican Governor Larry Hogan had immediately mobilized his state's National Guard for the short drive to the Capitol while frantically phoning Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, who repeatedly refused him permission to send in the troops. Inside the Pentagon, Lieutenant General Charles Flynn, the brother of the same Michael Flynn who had been pushing Trump to declare martial law, was participating in what CNN called those "key January 6th phone calls" that refused permission for the Guard's mobilization.

Following a phone call from the mayor of Washington and its police chief pleading for help, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy "ran down the hall" of the Pentagon to get authorization for the Guard's mobilization. After a crucial delay of 90 minutes, he finally called the Maryland governor, outside the regular chain of command, to authorize the Maryland Guard's dispatch. Those would indeed be the first troops to arrive at the Capitol and would play a critical role in restoring order.

At about 4:30 p.m., Trump finally tweeted: "These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously and viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home in love & peace."

Ten minutes later, at 4:40 p.m., hundreds of riot personnel from the D.C. police, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security arrived, along with the Maryland Guard, to reinforce the Capitol Police. Within an hour, the protesters had been pushed out of the building and the Capitol was declared secure.

Just five days later, Dr. Fiona Hill, a senior Russia expert on the National Security Council under Trump, reviewed these events and concluded that President Trump had staged a coup "in slow motion… to keep himself in power."

History's Lessons

Beyond all the critical details of who did what and when, there were deeper historical forces at play, suggesting that Donald Trump's urge for a political coup that would return him to power may be far from over. For the past 100 years, empires in decline have been roiled by coup attempts that sometimes have overturned constitutional orders. As their military reverses accumulate, their privileged economic position erodes, and social tensions mount, a succession of societies in the grip of a traumatic loss of global power have suffered coups, successful or not, including Great Britain, France, Portugal, Spain, the Soviet Union, and now the United States.

Britain's plot was a bit fantastical. Amid the painful, protracted dissolution of their empire, Conservative leaders plotted with top generals in 1968 to oust leftist Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson by capturing Heathrow airport, seizing the BBC and Buckingham Palace, and putting Lord Mountbatten in power as acting prime minister. Britain's parliamentary tradition simply proved too strong, however, and key principals in the plot quickly backed out.

In April 1974, while Portugal was fighting and losing three bitter anticolonial wars in Africa, a Lisbon radio station played the country's entry in that year's Eurovision Song Contest ("After the Farewell") just minutes before midnight on an evening that had been agreed upon. It was the signal to the military and their supporters to overthrow the entrenched conservative government of that moment, a success which became known as the "Carnation Revolution."

However, the parallels between January 6th and the fall of France's Fourth Republic in the late 1950s are perhaps the most telling. After liberating Paris from Nazi occupation in August 1944, General Charles de Gaulle headed an interim government for 18 months. He then quit in a dispute with the left, launching him into a decade of political intrigue against the new Fourth Republic, whose liberal constitution he despised.

By the mid-1950s, France was reeling from its recent defeat in Indochina, while the struggle against Muslim revolutionaries in its Algerian colony in North Africa turned ever more brutal, marked as it was by scandals over the widespread French use of torture. Amid that crisis of empire, an anti-elite, anti-intellectual, antisemitic politician named Pierre Poujade launched a populist movement that sent 56 members to parliament in 1956, including Jean-Marie Le Pen, later founder of the far-right National Front.

Meanwhile, a cabal of politicians and military commanders plotted a coup to return General de Gaulle to power, thinking he alone could save Algeria for France. After an army junta seized control of Algiers, the capital of that colony, in May 1958, paratroopers stationed there were sent to capture the French island of Corsica and to prepare to seize Paris should the legislature fail to install de Gaulle as prime minister.

As the country trembled on the brink of a coup, de Gaulle made his dramatic entry into Paris where he accepted the National Assembly's offer to form a government, conditional upon the approval of a presidential-style constitution for a Fifth Republic. But when de Gaulle subsequently accepted the inevitability of Algeria's independence, four top generals launched an abortive coup against him and then formed what they called the Secret Army Organization, or OAS. It would carry out terror attacks over the next four years, with 12,000 victims, while staging three unsuccessful assassination attempts against de Gaulle before its militants were killed or captured.

The Coup of 2024?

Just as the Filipino colonels spent five years launching a succession of escalating coups and those French generals spent four years trying to overthrow their government, so Trump's Republicans are working with ferocious determination in the run-up to the 2022 and 2024 elections to ensure that their next constitutional coup succeeds. Indeed, if you look back on events over the past year through the prism of such historical precedents, you can see all the components for a future political coup falling into place.

No matter how improbable, discredited, or bizarre those election fraud claims are, Republican loyalists persist in endless ballot audits in Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Texas. Their purpose is not really to find more votes for Trump in the 2020 election, but to maintain at least the present level of rage among the one-third of all Americans and more than half of all Republicans who believe that Joe Biden's presidency is fraudulent.

Since the 2020 election coincided with the new census, Republicans have been working, reports Vox news, to "gerrymander themselves into control of the House of Representatives." Simultaneously, Republican legislators in 19 states have passed 33 laws making it more difficult for certain of their residents to vote. Driven by the white nationalist "replacement theory" that immigrants and people of color are diluting the pool of "real American" voters, Trump and his Republican loyalists are fighting for "ballot integrity" on the principle that all non-white votes are inherently illegitimate. As Trump put it on the stump in 2016:

"I think this will be the last election that the Republicans have a chance of winning because you're going to have people flowing across the border, you're going to have illegal immigrants coming in… and they're going to be able to vote and once that all happens you can forget it. You're not going to have one Republican vote."

In case all that electoral manipulation fails and Trump needs more muscle for a future political coup, right-wing fighters like the Proud Boys are still rumbling away at rallies in Oregon, California, and elsewhere across America. Just as the Philippine government made military rebels do a risible 30 push-ups for the capital crime of armed rebellion, so federal courts have generally been handing out the most modest of penalties to rioters who attempted nothing less than the overthrow of U.S. constitutional democracy last January 6th.

Among the 600 rioters arrested as of August, dozens have been allowed to plead guilty to misdemeanors and only three had been sentenced to jail time, leaving most cases languishing in pretrial motions. Already Republicans like Senator Ted Cruz have rallied to their defense, writing the U.S. attorney general to complain about an "unequal administration of justice" with "harsher treatment" for Capitol defendants than those arrested in Black Lives Matter protests.

So, in 2024, as the continuing erosion of America's global power creates a crisis of confidence among ordinary Americans, expect Donald Trump to be back, not as the slightly outrageous candidate of 2016 or even as the former president eager to occupy the White House again, but as a militant demagogue with thundering racialist rhetoric, backed by a revanchist Republican Party ready, with absolute moral certainty, to bar voters from the polls, toss ballots out, and litigate any loss until hell freezes over.

And if all that fails, the muscle will be ready for another violent march on Washington. Be prepared, the America we know is worsening by the month.

Copyright 2021 Alfred W. McCoy

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel, Songlands (the final one in his Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Alfred W. McCoy, a TomDispatch regular, is the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author most recently of In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power (Dispatch Books). His latest book (to be published in November by Dispatch Books) is To Govern the Globe: World Orders and Catastrophic Change.

Trump's 'get out of jail free' card

Donald Trump is "telling most anyone who'll listen that he will run again in 2024." That's according to Axios's Mike Allen, who also pointed out this weekend that all of the polling suggests that Republican voters are clamoring for the former president to do it. There is little doubt that he will win the Republican nomination easily. Allen reports that all of the Republicans he's spoken with say "it would take a severe illness, death — or criminal charges sticking — to stop Trump from walking away with the race before it even begins." I have never doubted it. They love him, they really love him.

Trump is reportedly watching any would-be rivals very carefully, particularly Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as well as Mike Pence, his former vice president, and former secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Allen reports that, according to his sources, it's Pence who is Trump's most likely primary opponent — and he is not planning to defer to his former boss, which Allen pointedly says Trump "has noticed." Watching Pence get squashed like a stink bug doesn't seem very sporting, but it's probably all we're going to get.

Truthfully, there is no opening for a serious anti-Trumper and as long as the real thing's on the scene. Nobody can out-Trump Trump. You have to give DeSantis points for trying, though. The Florida governor is now contemplating offering $5,000 to unvaccinated cops who move to the Sunshine State and join departments there rather than submit to vaccine mandates in their home state. Trump must have raised his diet coke in silent salutation at that one. It's Trumpism at its crudest.

DeSantis and Pompeo are still playing the waiting game to see if any unfortunate events befall Trump, but they need to be careful lest they anger the boss and ruin their chances to run as his VP, which they will be happy to do, all the while winking and nodding at the right-wing power brokers that they'll be sure to keep Trump in line. Fat chance.

There are several obvious reasons why Trump is so dead set on running again.

The first is his obsession with vengeance, particularly for what he perceives as disloyalty. This explains why he spends just as much time slamming RINOs (Republicans In Name Only), whom he claims betrayed him, as he does Democrats. This is a deeply held philosophy that Trump has made plain for many years.

An even bigger motivation for Trump to run is the fact that his "grandiose narcissism" will not allow him to admit that he lost in 2020. Personality psychologist Evita March explained how this works shortly after election:

The grandiose narcissist is competitive, dominant, and has an inflated positive self-image regarding their own skills, abilities, and attributes. What's more, grandiose narcissists tend to have higher self-esteem and inflated self-worth. For the grandiose narcissist, defeat may compromise this inflated self-worth. According to researchers from Israel, these people find setbacks in achievement particularly threatening, as these setbacks could indicate a "failure to keep up with the competition".
Instead of accepting personal responsibility for failure and defeat, these individuals externalize blame, attributing personal setbacks and failures to the shortcomings of others. They do not, or even cannot, recognize and acknowledge the failure could be their own. Based on the profile of the grandiose narcissist, the inability to accept defeat may best be characterized by an attempt to protect the grandiose positive self-image. Their dominance, denial of weaknesses, and tendency to devalue others results in a lack of comprehension it's even possible for them to lose.

If you read the blizzard of statements he releases every day, it's clear that Trump spends most of his days obsessing over the Big Lie. He's now demanding that Republicans endorse his delusion or risk his wrath and his followers' rejection. It's not enough for him to believe it, he needs everyone else to validate that belief. And he has to run again — and win — in order to finally make the Big Lie true. To that end, he is working the system night and day to make sure he has loyalists planted in all the swing states to make sure that happens.

But while it's clear that he has deep psychological reasons for perpetuating the Big Lie and running again to avenge the loss he cannot accept, there are practical reasons for Trump to be desperate to get back in the White House. The Los Angeles Times' Doyle McManus reminds us that while Trump has always managed to squirm out of the endless legal and political problems he's confronted throughout his life he's facing some serious charges at the moment:

Throughout his epic, scandal-ridden career, Donald Trump has compiled an astonishing record of impunity, constantly staying one jump ahead of prosecutors, plaintiffs and creditors...[His] record of escapes would make Houdini envious. But Trump remains under the gun. He's still in search of escape routes.
A House committee is examining his attempts to overturn last year's presidential election, including his actions when a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. A prosecutor in Georgia is investigating whether he violated state law against soliciting election fraud when he demanded that officials "find 11,780 votes" — the number he needed to undo Joe Biden's victory in that state. And prosecutors in New York are looking into allegations that Trump, or at least the closely held family business he runs, committed tax and bank fraud.

I'm sure Trump enjoyed many things about being president, with the overwhelming amount of attention being the most important. But the Russia investigation made clear that as long as he was in office, he would not be prosecuted. Being president is literally a "get out of jail free" card. He knows that as soon as he declares his candidacy, any possibility of prosecution is unlikely. As McManus says, "it's a way to hold his troops together — and to make every prosecutor think twice."

I don't doubt that his desire to get back into the White House is mostly driven by his desire for revenge and the extreme personality defect that will not allow him to admit that he lost. But he's not insane. If he can get back into the White House, he will be completely out of the law's grasp for four years. And he knows it.

How the Big Lie threatens to crack up Trump's coalition

There is one thing Republicans are in fierce agreement on: gutting democracy by preventing people from voting — or having their votes counted — and setting the GOP up so that it "wins" elections, even though more Americans want Democrats as leaders. But underneath this agreement are rising tensions over what that push against democracy should look like.

Donald Trump and the more Trumpist wing of the GOP favor a brash approach, based on hyping lies about "stolen" elections, promulgating conspiracy theories about fake ballots and hacked voting machines, and defending the January 6th insurrectionists as martyrs for a just cause. The more institutional Republicans, on the other hand, are becoming warier of this shameless approach.

As I detailed at Salon last week, some of the more institutionalist Republicans have been trying to rewrite the Big Lie. They long for anti-democratic propaganda that is subtler, less embarrassing, and — most importantly — gives them cover within the mainstream media for their radical authoritarian views. The most recent gambit is an attempted redefinition of "rigged election," claiming it's not in reference to the more outlandish conspiracy theories, but to the get-out-the-vote donations by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, which are portrayed as somehow sinister. It's a hysteria based in racism, but it gives conservatives something factual to point to — Zuckerberg did give money to pro-democracy groups — to justify the non-stop ranting about "rigged" elections. The strategy is very much like what's going on with schools, where the teaching of of slavery and Jim Crow in history is used as a pretext for paranoid screaming about "critical race theory."

Republican propagandists want to have their "rigged election" cake, but be able to pretend to be serious people in mainstream politics. Trump and some of his most loyal apparatchiks, however, are not having it.

Last week, Bill O'Reilly interviewed Trump for his misnamed "No Spin" show and tried to get Trump to parrot back the more mainstream-friendly "Zuck bucks" rewrite of the Big Lie. Trump stubbornly refused to play along.

"This is the real rigged election," O'Reilly insisted, referring to Zuckerberg's financial support of pro-democracy groups. "It wasn't voter machine fraud or dead people—"

Trump — whose jaw visibly tightened when he realized that O'Reilly was trying to sell this softer take on the Big Lie — interrupted.

"It was everything," he insisted, clearly not ready to have his over-the-top lies about a "stolen" election replaced with this limp whining about a garden variety get-out-the-vote effort.

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, one of the biggest "stolen election" conspiracy theorists, is also none too happy about the efforts to launder the Big Lie. On a recent episode of his "Frank" show, Lindell responded to this O'Reilly interview with Trump by yelling, "The machines were the big steal" and insisting that "O'Reilly's delusional."

Also in the "just keep telling the unvarnished version of the Big Lie" camp is Steve Bannon, despite recently being held in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer a subpoena issued by the January 6 commission. He's been hosting Lindell on his show, where Lindell keeps telling wild stories about how homes with only two residents somehow voted 20 times. Bannon himself is pushing claims that Democrats plan to "steal" the gubernatorial election in Virginia, prepping his listeners to reject any outcome where Democrat Terry McAuliffe beats Republican Glenn Youngkin.

But while Bannon seems unruffled by the threat of actual jail time for his seditious behavior, other Republicans have reason to worry both about the legal and electoral consequences of the raw, uncut form of the Big Lie.

New reports from the Washington Post and the Rolling Stone have started to expose how much conspiring there was by Trump's allies prior to the January 6 riot, making it clear that there was nothing spontaneous or accidental about Trump's speech that incited an angry crowd to storm the Capitol that day.

John Eastman, the Federalist Society lawyer whose scheme to overturn the election was the fuel that inspired the Capitol riot, is clearly concerned that he might actually face a consequence or two for his role on the attempted coup. He is now saying it was "crazy" to think it was a "viable strategy" to demand that Vice President Mike Pence vacate the election results and turn the 2020 election over to Trump, which is exactly what the insurrectionists were trying to force Pence to do. But Eastman is, quite literally, the guy who came up with this "crazy" idea, wrote a memo for it, and worked with Trump's allies in a "war room" at a D.C. hotel for weeks, in an effort to make this "crazy" scheme happen.

The reason that Eastman, O'Reilly and other more traditional Republicans are eager to rewrite the history of the Big Lie and the insurrection is not mysterious. The reporting on the coup's "war room" and Bannon being held in contempt shows that the January 6 commission may not be as toothless as they hoped it would be. There's a real possibility that the extent of the conspiracy will be revealed. There is even, however faint, a possibility of legal consequences for the participants. In addition, it's widely believed in GOP circles that the insurrection is turning off moderate voters, who would be inclined to vote for the GOP, so long as they didn't think doing so would be tantamount to supporting a literal fascist uprising.

But Trump, Lindell, and Bannon are right to think that the GOP base doesn't want a watered-down revisionist history of the Big Lie and the insurrection. The base wants their conspiracy theories simple and overt, and they want the insurrection celebrated, not shoved down the memory hole. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post got a taste of this reality over the weekend when he attended a Virginia rally for Youngkin that he initially thought would be a little more tasteful than the stereotypical "MAGA gathering" because the "attendees were professionals" and some even "wore North Face." But when one looked past the bland exterior of the country club Republicans, it was a sea of mini-Lindells and mini-Bannons.

"But even here in the upscale suburbs, Republican rallygoers I buttonholed overwhelmingly accepted the 'big lie' about the 2020 election and expected fraud in the gubernatorial election, too," Milbank writes, noting, "If Republicans subscribe to the 'big lie' here, then it prevails everywhere."

This is the dilemma facing Republicans going into the 2022 midterms. Many leaders desperately want to put a "moderate" face on the party, making it palatable to suburban voters who find the politics of insurrection unsettling or distasteful. But, in doing so, they run the risk of turning off their own voters, who are done with what they see as pussyfooting and are ready to embrace a more flagrantly fascistic approach. Who will win the struggle depends on both the midterm elections and how serious the January 6 commission gets about holding those behind the insurrection accountable. But right now, I wouldn't bet against Trump and his crew of unabashedly seditious conspiracy theorists.

Reporter describes Trump’s shocking ‘pressure campaign’ to get Pence to overturn the election

In their book "I Alone Can Fix It," Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker take an in-depth look at former President Donald Trump's final year in office. Rucker has continued to report on the end of Trump's presidency in the Post, and during an appearance on MSNBC this week, he discussed Trump's efforts to pressure members of Congress Pence to overturn the election results in the days leading up to January 6.

Rucker told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell and fellow guest Joyce White Vance (a former federal prosecutor), "There was a days-long effort at the command center at the Willard Hotel, which was just a block away from the White House — where folks like Steve Bannon, John Eastman, Bernie Kerik, the former New York police commissioner, were trying to create this pressure campaign on members of Congress to believe their allegations of voter fraud. There was not, of course, evidence to support those claims. Yet there they were at that hotel, reviewing these claims, trying to fan the flames of dissent."

Those "flames" included the crowd of Trump supporters who eventually rioted and temporarily blocked Congress from counting the Electoral College votes that made Joe Biden presidetn.

Trump and his allies, Rucker told Mitchell, were also trying to "create an environment that could press Vice President Pence…. to take action to try to decertify the election."

'Under the gun': Columnist argues that Trump's biggest reason to run in 2024 is staying ‘out of jail’

Almost a year after being voted out of office, former President Donald Trump continues to be the target of investigations — from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. to the Fulton County's DA's office in Georgia to the U.S. House of Representatives. Los Angeles Times opinion columnist Doyle McManus, in a recent column, argues that Trump has a major incentive for running for president in 2024: trying to "stay out of jail."

"Trump remains under the gun," McManus explains. "He's still in search of escape routes. A House committee is examining his attempts to overturn last year's presidential election, including his actions when a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6. A prosecutor in Georgia is investigating whether he violated state law against soliciting election fraud when he demanded that officials 'find 11,780 votes' — the number he needed to undo Joe Biden's victory in that state. And prosecutors in New York are looking into allegations that Trump, or at least the closely held family business he runs, committed tax and bank fraud."

But despite all that, McManus adds, it is a mistake for Trump's critics to "count him out."

"Throughout his epic, scandal-ridden career," McManus observes, "Donald Trump has compiled an astonishing record of impunity, constantly staying one jump ahead of prosecutors, plaintiffs and creditors. He is the only president to be impeached twice, and acquitted twice by the votes of Republican senators. He spent almost three years under investigation for what looked like collusion with Russia, only to walk away scot-free."

McManus continues, "His former lawyer, Michael Cohen, went to prison for paying hush money to an adult entertainer known as Stormy Daniels, but 'Individual-1,' the man who ordered him to write the check, was never held accountable. That record of escapes would make Houdini envious."

The U.S. Department of Justice, as former Special Counsel Robert Mueller noted when testifying before Congress, has a policy against prosecuting a sitting president. But Trump hasn't been a sitting president since January 20, when he left the White House for Mar-a-Lago and Joe Biden was sworn in as president — and McManus stresses that avoiding a possible DOJ prosecution gives Trump incentive to run in 2024.

"As long as he's running — or even sort of running —Trump can denounce every inquest and subpoena as just another part of a political vendetta," McManus observes. "It's a way to hold his troops together — and to make every prosecutor think twice. He's notching up another presidential first: He's running for reelection to stay out of jail."

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