The Slatest

What Would Donald Trump Have Done if He’d Actually Gotten to the Capitol?

Grab a spear? Tear up ballots? Or glower and wave?

Donald Trump in an overcoat smiling smugly as he stands at a lectern in front of the White House
Donald Trump speaking from the Ellipse on Jan. 6, 2021. Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

We now know, thanks to Tuesday’s testimony from brave patriot/belated opportunist Cassidy Hutchinson, that Donald Trump really, really wanted to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Indeed, so strongly did he want to go to the Capitol, where his followers were rioting, storming the halls, and attempting to attack various U.S. government officials, that, according to testimony from Hutchinson, Trump tried to grab the wheel of the vehicle he was in and wrapped his hands around the neck of a Secret Service agent driving the car. “I’m the effin’ president, take me to the Capitol now,” Hutchinson recalled being told the president said. (He probably actually said “fucking.”)

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But was he intending to wreak havoc, to tear up the Electoral College ballots, or what? The question of what would have happened had Donald Trump successfully taken the wheel of the car, in a way, represents in miniature all the questions the Jan. 6 hearings are trying to answer: Was Donald Trump trying to commit a crime? Even though he didn’t quite succeed in committing the crime, does it still matter that he tried? Does Donald Trump even understand what crimes are, or anything else?

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Well, let’s speculate. First of all, it’s certainly been years since Donald Trump has driven a car, so if he somehow ended up behind the wheel of an armored limo or SUV, the results would be both comical and terrifying. He’d likely attempt to reach down to the floorboards to put the car in drive, because that’s where the shifter is on a golf cart. He would absolutely jam the car into third gear, and he would absolutely floor it.

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You can’t easily see the Capitol from the Ellipse, so there’s a decent chance Donald Trump would have had no idea which way to go. Presumably, one of his Secret Service agents—probably the one he hadn’t choked—would have told him to drive down Constitution. Likely he would have wiped out several of his own supporters along the way, and also possibly driven through the lobby of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

But then he gets to the Capitol. According to Hutchison’s earlier recorded testimony, played during today’s hearings, it was not clear what Trump’s intentions would have been, had he made it that far. “I know that there were discussions about him having another speech outside of the Capitol before going in,” she said. “I know that there was a conversation about him going into the House chamber at one point.” But by the time Trump might have made it to the actual building, things were already getting pretty dire. It’s quite difficult to imagine Donald Trump arriving at the Capitol, grabbing a spear, and clambering through a window. It’s equally difficult to imagine him appealing to the crowd for calm.

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No, what Donald Trump wanted was a photo-op. The same president who had the National Guard clear peaceful protesters out so he could take a picture holding a Bible had one clear goal at the Capitol, and that was to take a photo of himself, glowering, standing in front of a big building that was filled with losers but surrounded by patriots. It would have been good TV, he thought. (He wouldn’t have been wrong!)

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In a way, it’s a shame the Secret Service agents did their job. Arguments that Donald Trump was never urging on the rioters, that he never wanted anything like this to happen, were always absurd, but they would have been a lot harder to make if he’d gotten his photo-op, waved a clenched fist at the rioters, told them to their faces how much he loved them. But while he was absolutely thrilled that the rioters were ready to do his dirty work for him, there was no way he was going to lead the charge. Donald Trump does not actually want to risk getting burned by the fire. He just lights the match—and makes sure he’s in the photo when things go up in flames.

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