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Trump terrified even his truest believers

David A. Graham

Staff writer, The Atlantic

Donald Trump and his allies have dismissed the investigation into the insurrection as the work of enemies and traitors, but they can’t write off Brad Parscale and Katrina Pierson as faint-hearted RINOs.

But first, here are three great new stories from The Atlantic.

Inside Job

Donald Trump pointing, standing in front of American flags
Donald Trump on January 6, 2021. (Tasos Katopodis / Getty)

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“A sitting president asking for civil war.”

That was one unflinching verdict on President Donald Trump’s actions on January 6, 2021. But this observer wasn’t some hyperbolic Democrat or incorrigible Never Trumper or even a Trump-tepid member of the Republican establishment. It was Brad Parscale, who had been one of the president’s closest advisers: the man behind Trump’s acclaimed digital campaign in 2016, and then his campaign manager from 2018 until summer 2020.

Like many Americans, Parscale had had enough when he watched a mob storming the U.S. Capitol. That evening, he was exchanging texts with Katrina Pierson, a fellow veteran of the 2016 Trump team, when he invoked the specter of civil war. “This week I feel guilty for helping him win,” he told her. Pierson tried to reassure him: “You did what you felt right at the time and therefore it was right.”

Parscale wasn’t having it. He noted (apparently referring to the protester Ashli Babbitt) that someone had died, and wrote, “If I was trump and knew my rhetoric killed someone.” Pierson demurred: “It wasn’t the rhetoric.” But he was insistent.

“Katrina.”

“Yes it was”

Those text messages were revealed yesterday during the latest hearing of the House committee investigating Trump’s attempt to steal the 2020 election, and they show one reason the panel has been surprisingly effective, better at both surfacing new information and presenting it to the public than I had expected: The committee has so often let the most damning things come from Trump’s own closest aides. (Don’t miss my colleague Russell Berman’s excellent summary of the hearing.) And though that won’t convince everyone, some evidence shows it’s starting to corrode Trump’s standing. A new poll, for example, finds that nearly half of Republican primary voters want a different nominee for president in 2024.

The (formerly) friendly fire isn’t just coming from Parscale. Pierson had her own star turn during yesterday’s hearings. A former spokesperson for the 2016 Trump campaign and Trump surrogate, she helped plan the January 6 rally where Trump encouraged the mob to march on the Capitol. In another exchange revealed by the committee, an organizer named Kylie Kremer asked why certain fringe characters like the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones were involved. “POTUS,” Pierson replied. “He likes the crazies.” In an interview with the committee, she explained what she meant: “He loved people who viciously defended him in public.”

Not long ago, Pierson was living proof of this. She once appeared on CNN in a necklace made of bullets, dismissed concerns about Trump’s Muslim ban with a flippant “​​So what? They’re Muslim,” and blamed Barack Obama for the death of an American soldier in Iraq before he was president (to pick merely a few lowlights). And yet by early January 2021, even Pierson was rattled by the sorts of people Trump was calling to his side.

Those who continue to defend Trump have previously been able to find ways to dismiss the committee and its work as the product of implacable Trump haters. Starting with the panel’s two Republican members, one could write off Representative Adam Kinzinger as a disgruntled Never Trumper and—as Trump did in an email just this week—Vice Chair Liz Cheney as “a RINO and warmonger.”

You could shrug off some of the witnesses who have provided damaging testimony to the committee, too. Former Attorney General Bill Barr was a latecomer to Trumpworld and, perhaps, never a true disciple. The Justice Department officials Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue? Call ’em deep-state hacks. Maybe the Arizona legislator Rusty Bowers was just an obsolete Reaganite, and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a weak-kneed pushover.

With each new revelation, dismissals such as these have become less and less convincing. You could say that Cassidy Hutchinson was merely an ambitious junior aide—if not for the copious evidence of how plugged in she was in the White House. Besides, what did she have to gain in Republican politics by betraying the party’s de facto leader?

But how does even the most hard-core Trumpist write off Katrina Pierson and Brad Parscale as meek MAGA fans or traitors? Parscale had no political identity or political career at all outside of Trump, having been plucked from political obscurity to work on the 2016 campaign. By January 6, Parscale had been fired as campaign manager but remained a public supporter and was on the Trump payroll as recently as May. Pierson was still so far inside Trumpworld that she helped plan the rally, coordinating with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.

Pierson and Parscale’s messages will still not be enough to change some people’s mind. (Katrina Pierson might call these dead-enders “crazies,” but I would hesitate to do so—not only is it crude, but it also seems to let them off for a conscious, dangerous choice they’ve made.) They will find ways to dismiss these messages from the likes of Parscale and Pierson, too, as well as whatever else might be coming from the committee.

And more revelations are coming, with a new meeting scheduled for next week. As yesterday’s hearing came to a close, Cheney implied that the former president was actively trying to intimidate people from speaking openly to the committee. She alleged that one witness, whom she did not name and whose testimony is not yet public, had received a call from Trump personally. The witness did not answer the call and their lawyer told the committee, which in turn informed the Department of Justice. Apparently, one person who does not doubt the power of this insider testimony is Donald Trump.

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Today’s News

  1. New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that inflation surged to a pandemic-era high in June, with U.S. consumer prices jumping by 9.1 percent year over year.
  2. Sri Lanka’s prime minister has become acting president, but protesters are calling for a total change of leadership as citizens endure shortages of food and fuel in the country’s worst financial crisis since 1948.
  3. President Joe Biden arrived in Israel, kicking off a four-day visit to the Middle East.

Dispatches

Evening Read

An infinity loop made of batteries (Katie Martin / The Atlantic)

When Does the Clean-Energy Infinity Loop Start?

Last month, my 1983 Volvo broke down in a remote part of Oregon. It took two days to get a replacement fuel pump. In those two days, sitting in the dry High Desert heat in a plastic chair outside the shop, waiting for mechanics to completely replace the ancient fuel lines under my beloved little sedan, I spent a lot of time thinking about buying an electric vehicle. What was I, an environmental journalist, doing burning fossil fuels on the daily just to get to point B? In 2022? It was shameful.

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(Nick Wall / Netflix)

Read. You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty, by Akwaeke Emezi, is a psychological portrait that is also a beach read.

Watch. Hulu’s The Great and Apple TV+’s Dickinson are two historical dramas that succeed by disregarding naturalism.

Meanwhile, the Netflix adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, out Friday, awkwardly combines Regency-era aesthetics with modernized language.

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