In the final moments of his presidency, Mr. Trump is confronting an unfamiliar fate: He is being held to account as never before for things he has said.
- Jan. 16, 2021
When President Trump faced (and overcame) the gravest crisis of his first campaign, he defended his boasts of sexual assault on the “Access Hollywood” tape as ultimately harmless gabbing. “Locker room talk,” he said, nothing to dwell on.
When the president faced (and overcame) impeachment in 2019 after pressing the Ukrainian president to investigate Joseph R. Biden Jr., he insisted it was merely an innocuous case of two guys talking. “A perfect call,” he said, not a high crime.
And when Mr. Trump leaves the White House no later than Wednesday — amid the impeachment sequel and uncommon comeuppance he has encountered since inciting a riotous mob in Washington on Jan. 6 — he will surrender a valued perk: an executive phone system, he once enthused, that made it feel as though his words would self-destruct before they became self-destructive.
“The world’s most secure system,” Mr. Trump marveled in a 2017 interview during his first week in office, observing that no one was listening in and recording. “The words just explode in the air.”
Poof. Gone. Just as he likes it.
For most of Mr. Trump’s 74 years, the relationship between his words and their consequences has been fairly straightforward: He says what he wants, and nothing particularly durable tends to happen to him.
But in the final frames of his presidency, Mr. Trump is confronting an unfamiliar fate. He is being held to account as never before for things he has said, finding his typical defenses — denial, obfuscation, powerful friends, claiming it was all a big joke — insufficient in explaining away a violent mob acting in his name.
Aides could not do it for him, anonymously offering more palatable accounts.
Allies could not argue that he had been misunderstood.
His own words were all anyone needed to hear on this one.
In almost certainly the most expansive series of penalties he has incurred in his life, Mr. Trump’s Twitter account has been banned, his business brand badly dented, his presidency doomed to the historical infamy of a second impeachment. His largest lender, Deutsche Bank, is moving to create distance from him. His New Jersey golf club was stripped of a major tournament. Some once-reliable Republican congressional loyalists are revisiting their commitment, threatening his grip on the party, even as the president’s popularity with much of his support base remains undimmed.