Just hours after the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump for the second time, the president released a video message. He did not address the vote that went largely along party lines (with ten Republicans joining the Democrats) and instead focused on asking for calm ahead of Joe Biden’s inauguration.
“Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for,” he said in the five-minute address. “No true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law enforcement or our great American flag.”
Media reactions to the speech were varied, with many outlets noting that the president was forced to use more traditional lines of communication, after having been banned from several social media platforms. What appears light on the ground is an analysis of why he made the speech.
A superficial assessment may conclude that the president was seeking to sway undecided Republican senators in any upcoming impeachment trial, but this seems unlikely. Opinions and reactions to the events of January 6 at the Capitol have already been made clear by GOP lawmakers; while many have publicly condemned the violence, only a few have laid the blame on Donald Trump.
What is more likely is that the president was attempting to head-off zealous supporters who may engage in lawbreaking as a result of the impeachment vote. In a statement released through the White House press office, Trump said:
“That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers. Thank You.”
While Democrats – and some Republicans – talk of dangerous incitement, and of “fanning the flames” of anger, launching a largely symbolic reprimand against a president who will shortly be leaving office appears out of line with the sponsored message of “unity.”
Trump’s call for peace will likely do more for reconciliation than the House efforts.