Calling B.S. On Trump’s “Team Normal”
The least surprising revelation of this week’s Jan. 6 hearings is that Rudy Giuliani was in the White House on election night in 2020 offering drunken advice to Donald Trump. Indeed, after observing his performance in November and December 2020, I would have been more surprised if he had not had a drink or two.
Nor was I surprised to learn that conspiracist attorney Sidney Powell was on “Team Crazy.” We knew that from the press conference where she spewed nonsense while Giuliani’s hair dye was sweating down his face. Recall that at one point Powell announced that she was going to “release the Kraken.” What the mythical monster squid had to do with election certification was never clear. But, then again, neither were her lawsuits, which were replete with references to the late Hugo Chávez and typographical errors.
The Jan. 6 hearings did contain one big surprise. It was revealed that there was a group of people associated with Trump who considered themselves — unironically — to be on “Team Normal.” Led by former Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, this group may not have been exactly pro-democracy, but its members were not stumbling around the White House drunkenly telling the former president that the election was stolen from him. It may not have been a high bar, but this group cleared it. And that was enough for “Team Normal.”
Not that Stepien was without his own eccentricities. Prior to the job with Trump, Stepien was best known as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) campaign manager. He was cast aside by Christie after it became public that in 2013 the then-governor’s staff schemed to create massive traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey by closing two of the three lanes available for local traffic to enter the George Washington Bridge that connects New Jersey and New York City. Fort Lee suffered the very punishment one would expect after its Democratic mayor failed to endorse a Republican governor for reelection.
Now back to the hearings. Stepien did not identify who else was on “Team Normal,” but it seems likely that another Christie campaign veteran, Justin Clark, was a member in good standing. Before the election, Clark had been caught on tape acknowledging that “traditionally it’s always been Republicans suppressing votes in places” and that for Trump’s reelection it was time to “start playing offense a little bit.” While distressing for many to hear, this was a normal pre-election voter suppression training for the GOP.
Also vying for “Team Normal” was Jason Miller, former spokesman for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Miller declined a role in the Trump White House after it was revealed that he had impregnated a fellow staffer on the 2016 campaign while he was married. During ensuing litigation, court documents showed Miller had a second affair while on the campaign, visited massage parlors in Miami, New York, Washington and Virginia and hired prostitutes both before and after the 2016 presidential election. Admittedly, by Trump standards, this was all quite normal.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner clearly wanted to be on “Team Normal.” Their depositions made clear that they were very busy and paid little attention to Giuliani, as one would normally expect when a drunken idiot is convincing your father (and father-in-law) that the election was rigged by Italians and Venezuelans. When the White House counsel and his senior team threatened to resign over Trump’s erratic behavior in the run up to Jan. 6, Kushner dismissed it — as one normally would — as “whining.”
The star of the hearings so far, however, is former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr. If “Team Normal” had a spiritual leader it was Barr. According to his account, he made clear to Trump that he did “not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff.” To emphasize the point, he claims he told the president in private meetings that “the claims of fraud were bullshit.” Then he resigned.
Given his concerns that the president had lost touch with reality and was spouting dangerously false claims of fraud, Barr’s resignation letter was not exactly a tour de force for democracy or the rule of law. It began as follows:
“I appreciate the opportunity to update you this afternoon on the Department’s review of voter fraud allegations in the 2020 election and how these allegations will continue to be pursued. At a time when the country is so deeply divided, it is incumbent on all levels of government, and all agencies acting within their purview, to do all we can to assure the integrity of elections and promote public confidence in their outcome.”
Barr was not calling bullshit.
Nor did any of the others who claimed to be on “Team Normal.” A “normal” campaign manager keeps drunk supporters away from his boss on a highly emotional election night. “Normal” campaign staff don’t stay quiet when their candidate falls under the influence of “Team Crazy.” Most importantly, when their candidate’s supporters storm the U.S. Capitol, “normal” people, decent people, denounce it in clear terms.
Instead, after the insurrection, many of those on “Team Normal” continued to work with Trump. They defended him during his second impeachment and when he continued to lie about the election. They protected his fragile ego and damaged our democracy. This may be “normal” for those in Trump’s orbit. I suspect it is. But in reality, it is shameful and despicable. Calling it anything else is bullshit.