With a bright light shining on him and the first glimmer of real fear in his eyes, Donald Trump released his hostage video.
“I want to be very clear — I unequivocally condemn the violence we saw last week,” the president said, in a video posted less than two hours after the US House of Representatives voted to impeach him. It wasn’t shared to his personal Twitter, of course, but he can easily circumnavigate the belated ban these days by using the White House account.
The five-minute video seems like a direct call to the MAGA mob, addressing his “true supporters”, telling them “we cannot tolerate” violence; the message these people needed to hear, perhaps, just one week and five lives too late. But, of course, it isn’t really a message to them at all. It is a plea on bended knee to his last hope: Mitch McConnell.
Donald Trump is the first US president to be impeached twice. The House of Representatives voted on Wednesday that he had indeed incited the “lawless action” that took place on 6 January.
This means he has been impeached, but I wouldn’t pull those party poppers just yet — because impeachment by the House does not necessarily mean Trump will be removed from office, though it will most likely scupper his attempts to run in 2024. The process now moves to the (Republican) Senate, where a two-thirds majority must vote to truly oust the president. In reality, that Senate trial will probably conclude after Trump leaves office on January 20, considering the Senate will not meet again (due to McConnell’s wishes) until January 19.
That makes the motive behind Trump’s latest video feel especially transparent.
Situated in the most iconic room in the world, the president reminds us of the scope of his power: “I have been briefed by the US Secret Service about the potential threats.” He sounded, on this rare occasion, actually presidential. And he said what he knew others in the Republican Party — and their rapidly disappearing donors — needed to hear while addressing his supporters: “There must be no violence, no law-breaking, no vandalism of any kind.”
Despite it being packaged like one, this was no presidential address — it was a love letter.
Just as your ex said all the things you needed to hear to win you back for one last night of passion (before predictably dumping you again), Donald Trump read the cue-cards he needed to get Mitch McConnell on side.
If today is anything to go by, the Senate Majority Leader (and the party that largely answers to him) has the potential to go either way. Though reports suggested he was privately “pleased” at the impeachment effort earlier this week, seeing it as an opportunity to purge Trumpism from the Republican Party, he has since remained tightlipped — and his refusal to move to a speedy impeachment trial in the Senate suggests he is still considering which cards to play and when. That indecision is what Trump is banking on.
Will this desperate plea work? We’ll have to wait and see.