A new book from New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman reports that former President Donald Trump vowed not to leave the White House following his 2020 election loss. It feels like old news, really – especially from Haberman, who won a Pulitzer for reporting on Trump’s ephemeral connections to Russia. But liberal media outlets are salivating at the opportunity to frame Trump’s comments to his aides as high-minded coup-planning.
“I’m just not going to leave,” Trump allegedly said. “We’re never leaving. How can you leave when you won an election?”
According to CNN, “Trump’s insistence that he would not be leaving the White House, which has not been previously reported, adds new details to the chaotic post-election period in which Trump’s refusal to accept his defeat and numerous efforts to overturn the election results led to the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by pro-Trump rioters.”
What CNN fails to point out is that Trump ultimately did leave the White House of his own volition – although Haberman’s account suggests that Trump repeatedly postured as if he would not leave.
“Haberman writes that in the immediate aftermath of the November 3 elections, Trump seemed to recognize he had lost to Biden,” CNN reported. He asked advisers to tell him what had gone wrong. He comforted one adviser saying, “We did our best.” Trump told junior press aides, “I thought we had it,” seemingly almost embarrassed by the outcome.
Yet, Trump’s perspective shifted. Eventually, he came to adopt the view that the election had been stolen from him, that he would not be leaving the White House. According to Haberman, Trump “abruptly informed aides he had no intention of departing the White House in late January 2021 for Biden to move in.”
“He was even overheard asking the chair of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, “Why should I leave if they stole it from me?””
If Trump had stayed in the White House beyond Biden’s legal inauguration, it would have been an unprecedented move and an egregious violation. Yet, again, as CNN fails to point out: it didn’t happen; Trump did leave.
Sure, the prospect of a defeated incumbent refusing to vacate his post, and refusing to participate in the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next hints at democracy’s fragility and is a potentially serious situation. And in Trump’s case, his behavior, his soreloserness seems to have emboldened the indignation of his base. But ultimately, a book, and breathless reporting on Trump’s actions after the election speak to the left’s fixation with Trump. Attaching such significance to every word that Trump, a hyperbolic, reactive, seat-of-his-pants wind-bag, utters seems counterproductive and is without question exhausting for media consumers.
We (the United States Congress, that is) already litigated Trump’s post-election behavior. The January 6th Commission found that while Trump’s behavior was repulsive and divisive – he never committed a crime. That question has been settled. So with the serious questions settled, reportage on every word Trump may or may not have uttered to an aide in November 2020 amounts to a hifalutin gossip column – Us Weekly for the professional class.
Trump peacefully vacated the White House in January 2021. It’s over. Yes, he emboldened his base – but the susceptibility of Trump’s base is the result of systemic problems – like rampant income inequality, jobs hemorrhaging, and cultural marginalization – not Trump’s off-the-cuff tweets. If you want to placate Trump’s base – the growing segment of Americans who are fumingly angry at The System – there are some viable fixes: universal healthcare, monopoly busting, reigning in Big Tech, and the social media platforms whose algorithms promote hateful, radical material to increase revenue. But doing those things would require well-to-do liberals to make sacrifices potentially. And it’s easier just to scapegoat Trump and attach other-worldly significance to every word he said in anger about the 2020 election results.
Although I’m quick to criticize the media for their continued fixation with Trump – and their framing of Trump as a mortal threat to our democratic institutions – I appreciate that the media plays a valuable role in holding public officials accountable. But the 2020 election came and went. And while the January 6th riots were condemnable, they were not a constitutional crisis – nor is anything Maggie Haberman or CNN are reporting now.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.