When push comes to shove, it may be Donald Trump’s sheer, malign incompetence that saves the republic.
The more evidence that accumulates about his crackpot schemes to overthrow the 2020 presidential election, the more they resemble the plot line of one of Donald E. Westlake’s “Dortmunder” novels about a career criminal whose elaborate heists go hilariously wrong.
My favorite is “Bank Shot,” in which Dortmunder’s intrepid gang haul away one of those temporary mobile home banks one night, only to realize — uh oh! — that Long Island is, indeed, an island, and that the cops have already blockaded the bridges. In the end, the fool thing rolls downhill and sinks into the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a funny film version starring George C. Scott.
Just so Trump’s post-election scam featuring the likes of Ohio Rep. “Gym” Jordan, aka the Very Angry Congressman, and co-starring the mustachioed My Pillow guy and a bunch of comically inept lawyers who have lost 64 consecutive court cases. Also featuring Rudolph W. Giuliani as A Guy Who Used To Be Somebody Until He Discovered the Wonder-Working Powers of Single-Malt Scotch.
(A confession: I too once felt spray-on hair dye running down my face during a sweaty interlude masquerading as a blond professional wrestling heel. I was in the eighth grade.)
Ordinarily, Trump exhibits the low cunning of a mob boss. Rule One is: Never write anything down. It’s clearly because he sends no emails or written directives that Trump himself has so far escaped New York tax fraud charges. The law requires proof of corrupt intent, and as long as nobody rats him out, the boss can plead ignorance.
If you believe that Donald J. Trump, a guy who stiffs pretty much everybody he’s ever done business with (and currently refuses to pay Giuliani’s legal fees), was unaware of Trump Organization tax avoidance scams exactly like those he learned from dear old Dad …
Well, you probably also believe that he won the 2020 election in a landslide. So let’s move on.
Rule Two in the mob boss handbook is this: Never talk about it over the phone. That’s one we’ve seen the big dope violate often. He’s constitutionally incapable of keeping his mouth shut. First, when he tried to shake down the president of Ukraine into announcing a phony investigation of presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
That one got him impeached, if not convicted.
Second, when he phoned Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Jan. 2, urging him to “find” enough votes to overturn Trump’s 11,779-vote defeat there.
“I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” he said. “Because we won the state.” Unwilling to cheat, Raffensperger recorded the call. The Washington Post soon had a copy.
Trump also tried to bully Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Arizona’s Doug Ducey. Both resisted. Republican legislators in Michigan and Wisconsin also refused to play ball. All now face Trump-endorsed primary opponents.
Attorney General William Barr resigned in December, using a barnyard epithet to describe the quality of Trump’s evidence of fraud.
An ordinary con man would back off and start planning his comeback. As the lamest of lame ducks, Trump had no power to make anybody do anything that conflicted with their principles or self-interest.
Lacking ethics of his own, he’s blind to those of others. So he tried strong-arming acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen, and deputy Richard P. Donoghue, over the phone.
As any competent lawyer would, Donoghue took notes.
DOJ lawyers, he wrote, “told [Trump] flat-out that much of the info he is getting is false, +/or just not supported by the evidence — we look at allegations but they do not pan out.” They told Trump that DOJ had neither the constitutional authority nor any intention of interfering in a presidential election.
Like some QAnon crank in his grandma’s basement, Trump persevered: “Don’t expect you to do that, just say that the election was corrupt,” he insisted, and “leave the rest to me and the R[epublican] Congressmen.”
Clearer evidence of criminal intent would be hard to find. Trump meant to overturn the election by any means possible. Exactly how much proof can be found of White House involvement in raising the Jan. 6 mob remains to be seen. But the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers didn’t just decide on a midwinter camping trip.
Trump told the gathering mob that they needed to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell, or you won’t have a country anymore.” He vowed to march with them. Fat chance. He quickly retreated into the White House to enjoy the spectacle on TV.
So now the portly sideshow barker in elevator shoes has been quoted calling the cops who fought hours of hand-to-hand combat “pussies” and “cowards,” while the mob chanted, “Kill Mike Pence.”
One thing you can bank on: He’ll never say it to their faces.
Gene Lyons is a columnist with the Arkansas Times.
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