On January 6, 2021, a MAGA army besieged the Capitol. The objective was to stop Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 election—to deny Joe Biden the office he’d won by almost seven million votes, and to keep the loser Trump in the White House.
We think of January 6 as “the insurrection” or “the coup attempt,” but those definite articles are misleading. In fact, as the political commentator Amanda Carpenter explains in The Bulwark, the besieging was part of the insurrection, one strand among many in Trump’s coup attempt:
From the summer of 2020 through January 6, 2021, Trump’s buffoonish plans evolved—ultimately taking shape as a multipronged plot to rob Joe Biden of the presidency, one that descended into bloody violence at the United States Capitol. It happened fast, but not all at once: Lawsuits were filed in state and federal courts, up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Strategies changed. Officials inside the Department of Justice clashed over whether to enable Trump or hem him in. His team rallied activists to swarm the homes and workplaces of election officials. Trump pressured state officials to “find the votes.” More than one hundred members of Congress were organized to object to the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6th. In several states that Biden won, Republicans went so far as to submit fake Electoral College paperwork to “certify” Trump as the 2020 winner.
Carpenter tells me on today’s PREVAIL podcast, “Really, what was happening here is they were trying every possible avenue, at every point in time” to keep Trump in office, “and slowly, those efforts overlapped and escalated.” The various coup-attempt threads woven together by the Defeated Former Guy’s loyalists—traitors like Mike Flynn, Steve Bannon, Jeffrey Clark, Sidney Powell, John Eastman, and Rudy Giuliani—created a veritable Bayeux Tapestry of sedition.
It was a Throw Spaghetti At The Wall insurrection. And it almost worked. As Carpenter puts it in her piece, “Like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, shake enough door handles, and eventually one opens.”
In the end, the multiplicity of coup attempts doomed the overall endeavor. On January 6, VP Mike Pence, in his capacity as President of the Senate, presided over the certification of the votes. The “Green Bay Sweep,” as described by Trump loyalist Peter Navarro, called for pressure to be put on Pence so he’d go along with the scheme to delay that process—non-violent pressure. This was the so-called “good” coup. What Trump and Co. wanted Pence to do was suggest that the alternate slate of electors sent to Congress in various swing states might be legitimate, thus calling the results of the entire election into doubt. The DFG said as much, in a tweet on January 6:
States want to correct their votes, which they now know were based on irregularities and fraud, plus corrupt process never received legislative approval. All Mike Pence has to do is send them back to the States, AND WE WIN. Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!
Never mind that Trump lost the election by almost seven million votes. The will of the people was simply not considered in his autocratic calculus.
On his speech the day of the besieging, Trump called on Pence to “do the right thing.” If the VP “does the right thing, we win the election.” He continued:
All [Pence] has to do, all this is, this is from the number one, or certainly one of the top, Constitutional lawyers in our country. He has the absolute right to do it. We’re supposed to protect our country, support our country, support our Constitution, and protect our Constitution.
States want to revote. The states got defrauded, They were given false information. They voted on it. Now they want to recertify. They want it back. All Vice President Pence has to do is send it back to the states to recertify and we become president and you are the happiest people.
Prior to January 6, Pence had spent the last four years doing everything Trump commanded, no matter how humiliating, no matter how horrible. He tacitly endorsed the Big Lie. He served as chair of the White House Coronavirus Task Force that intentionally sabotaged the pandemic, needlessly killing three quarters of a million Americans. He did not invoke the 25th Amendment, or lead Republicans to oust Trump during the impeachment, which would have given him the White House and a good shot at winning in 2020. He behaved like he lacked freewill. I called him “property.” Certainly Trump seemed to have a larger ownership stake in Mike Pence than in many of his overleveraged condo buildings. So it was reasonable to expect that on January 6, Mike Pence would do exactly as he was told, as Mike Pence always had.
Only, this time, he didn’t.
If Navarro is to be believed, the besieging of the Capitol was never supposed to happen. The pressure on Pence to delay the certification was supposed to come from members of Congress and, perhaps, the media. Instead, the MAGA faithful erected a gallows, where Pence was to be hanged. (This was the “bad” coup.) They stormed the Capitol, intending to kill him. Ashli Babbitt was reportedly shot because she got too close to the VP. Pence refused to get into a car with the Secret Service, presumably because he did not trust that the agents were not part of the plot. Furthermore, Pence was not alone in the Capitol; his wife and one of his kids was with him, all of them in mortal danger. When he finally made his way back to the chamber later that night, he looked genuinely pissed. Was this why Pence, for the first and only time in four years of cloyingly obsequious servitude, acted against his master’s orders?
“What Peter Navarro argues, and why he’s [supposedly] the good guy, is that the mob ruined his plan,” Carpenter told me. “The mob interfered, and after that, there was no hope. So I sort of do think—and this is going to sound really weird—[that] Mike Pence was saved by the mob that wanted to kill him. Because it made the decision really easy. . . We don’t know what he would have done, had January 6 been drawn out into this 72-hour event.”
Needless to say, the distinction between good coup and bad coup is not as pronounced as Navarro would like us to believe. What the Bannon-Eastman-Giuliani wing of the Trump insurrection team unleashed was no less an attempt to attack our democracy for their not donning colorful costumes, stealing lecterns, or rubbing feces on the Capitol wall. One might argue, in fact, that shitting on the Constitution is worse.
A coup is a coup. Seditious conspiracy is seditious conspiracy. A traitor is a traitor.
LISTEN TO THE PODCAST
S2 E21: Good Coup, Bad Coup (with Amanda Carpenter)
Political commentator and “The Bulwark” columnist Amanda Carpenter joins Greg Olear to discuss her piece on the insurrection, “The Six Main Strands of the Trump Coup Attempt;” the future of the Republican Party; and the fate of Trumpism. Plus: a new, sexy candy by Tucker Carlson.
Follow Amanda Carpenter:
Read her work at “The Bulwark:”
Read her “Six Strands” piece:
Buy her book:
Thanks to BetterHelp for sponsoring this episode. Get 10% off your first month at betterhelp.com/greg.
Biden won by 7,060,140 to be exact.
Great podcast this morning. You guys really are helping. Keep it up.