White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany hinted very strongly on Friday that one key reason for Donald Trump’s post-election behaviour is payback for those who wronged him throughout his presidency.
“In 2016, President Trump became the duly-elected president. Many sought to undermine him, discredit him, delegitimise him and deny his victory,” McEnany told reporters at the White House as she wrapped up a news conference.
“There were no calls for unity. There were no calls for healing. So, while every legal vote is counted, let us not forget the inexcusable transition or lack thereof that President Trump had to endure in 2016 and four years into his presidency.”
The inaccuracies in her statement aside, this is a giant window into the president’s mindset and echoes a recent report that he is trying to “get back” at Democrats for questioning the legitimacy of his election.
McEnany unveiled a litany of Trump’s grievances, from the completely untrue – “this president was never given an orderly transition of power”, “there were no calls for unity”, and the “Mueller investigation which … exonerated President Trump” – to the true: “You had 70 lawmakers say, “We’re not coming to his inauguration.’”
As he wrote in “The Art of the Deal” in 1987, “when people treat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me, my general attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard”.
There is no question that Democrats, who were the daily targets of Trump’s fury and insults during the 2016 presidential campaign, pushed back quite hard after he won. Green Party candidate Jill Stein, with the support of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, pursued recounts in key battleground states.
Many Democrats, including Clinton in 2019, called Trump’s presidency “illegitimate” and nearly 70 skipped Trump’s inauguration in 2017. House Democrats impeached him in 2019.
McEnany suggested these – and many other grievances, including all aspects of the “Russia collusion” investigation – are part of Trump’s refusal to concede to President-elect Joe Biden, as Clinton did the day after Trump was declared the winner in 2016.
Trump is still refusing to begin the presidential transition process, keeping up his legal and recount efforts in several states, and pursuing unprecedented manoeuvres to overturn the will of American voters.
So, the US can only watch and wait as Trump’s revenge tour plays out – a tour that numerous historians, election law experts, and even some fellow Republicans argue is delegitimising election integrity and imperilling democracy.