At the White House on Friday, President Trump held what may have been his most deranged meeting yet. In it, the president raged at his loyalists for betraying him, and discussed taking extralegal measures to overturn the election.
The meeting, first reported by the New York Times, included lawyer and conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell, convicted felon Michael Flynn, and Rudy Giuliani. One plan floated at the meeting was for Trump to appoint Powell as a “special counsel” overseeing allegations of voter fraud. Powell’s voter fraud claims are so fantastical she has been mocked even by other far-right legal conspiracy theorists. Andrew McCarthy, a former birther and author of one book titled How Obama Embraces Islam’s Sharia Agenda and another calling for his impeachment on multiple counts, has described Powell’s vote-fraud claims as “loopy.”
Trump also reportedly brought up Flynn’s proposal, which he has expounded on cable news, to impose martial law and direct the military to hold a new election. “At one point in the meeting on Friday, Mr. Trump asked about that idea,” reports the Times.
Political scientists have debated whether it is accurate to describe Trump’s efforts to overturn the election as a “coup,” an “autogolpe,” or neither. Trump’s interest in deploying the military to cancel an election he clearly lost certainly seems to resolve that debate, at least in terms of his intent.
There is no reason to believe Trump commands the power to actually implement any of these wild ideas. Trump’s best chance to steal the election was to have the decisive voting margin in the Electoral College determined by the counting of mail-in ballots that were mailed before, but arrived after Election Day. This would have let him either persuade the Republican-controlled Supreme Court to invalidate those decisive ballots, or Republican-controlled state legislators to disregard their state’s voting results and appoint pro-Trump electors to represent their state.
But the election was not close enough for him to pursue either strategy, whatever chance he had for some kind of Bush v. Gore replay has passed. The measures he is now contemplating lie outside the normal framework for resolving election disputes, and would require, at minimum, almost uniform levels of GOP support.
Trump does not have that. Indeed the striking thing is that he is veering to positions so extreme and self-defeating that even his loyalists have blanched. Perhaps the most alarming fact about the Friday meeting is that Giuliani, who has spent months spreading fantastical claims of imagined voter fraud, became a quasi-voice of reason. Giuliani has proposed using the Department of Homeland Security to seize and examine voting machines — a move the Department has resisted — but even Giuliani opposes appointing a nutter like Powell.
One theme running through Trump World reporting in recent weeks is that the president has increasingly tuned out any advisers or friends who try to reason him toward accepting defeat. Friday’s meeting devolved into a loyalty contest, with “yelling and screaming,” and competing lawyers “often accusing each other of failing to sufficiently support the president’s efforts,” reports Politico.
Reporters are emphasizing that it isn’t just the usual Republicans who have always privately worried about Trump who express concern. Advisers fret that Trump “is spending too much time with people they consider crackpots or conspiracy theorists,” reports Jonathan Swan. The “too much time” line captures the extremely relative nature of the schism. It’s apparently well and good for Trump to spend some time with crackpots and conspiracy theorists — just not too much time. Even Trump’s hardened loyalists sound genuinely worried:
In all likelihood, their concern is not some scenario where tanks roll down the streets or Trump blockades himself in the Oval Office on January 20 like Al Pacino in the last scene of Scarface. It’s that Trump will spin so completely out of control that he discredits them, or puts the Georgia special election at risk. The crazies are turning on the crazier.