The summer of 2019 brought one of the more ridiculous moments in the ill-fated administration of President Donald Trump. That time, the president wasted the clout of his lofty perch to push a needy foreign ally to announce an investigation aimed at smearing select U.S. citizens.
Months later, after he was found out, Trump described the recorded conversation that led to his impeachment "a perfect phone call." Perfectly corrupt, said the House's Democratic majority — which soon impeached Trump for abuse of power before his Republican adherents in the Senate let him off the hook.
Suddenly, in the waning days of his term, the collection of Trump's greatest audio hits gains a late entry. This time, the president prods and threatens state GOP officials in Georgia to retroactively rig election results in his favor even after recounts and probes amply showed he lost.
In several ways, the latest explosive phone call echoes the same high-pressure, poorly articulated and truthless sales pitch as his famous 2019 exchange with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump neither negotiates nor changes minds; he and his target talked past each other and reached no agreement.
One similarity between the calls a year and a half apart lies in the U.S. president's careless use of fabrications.
"I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that's really unfair," he told Zelensky. "A lot of people are talking about that … and you had some very bad people involved."
Actually, that prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was fired after complaints he was slow-walking or choking off corruption investigations during a previous Ukrainian administration. Trump called Shokin "very good," it seems, because the disgruntled official was feeding disparaging gossip to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. As with much of Giuliani's work product on Trump's behalf, the results were nil.
In the new taped conversation on Saturday with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and other officials, Trump let loose with an equally jumbled series of false presumptions that — despite repeated attempts — have gotten no traction in any court or legitimate legislative body.
But again, Trump was pushing tales of convenience that he wanted others to believe so he could intimidate someone of lesser power.
Back when Zelensky raised the matter of buying Javelin missiles from the U.S. for defense against Russia — arms that the White House held up — Trump said: "I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. They say CrowdStrike … the server, they say Ukraine has it."
Trump was giving an inarticulate shorthand rehash of a shoddy conspiracy theory. Nothing irregular about the CrowdStrike company's probe and response to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee would ever be unearthed. This "server" didn't exist. Zelensky announced no investigation, and the U.S. missiles were delivered at Congress' urging anyway.
On Saturday, Trump went with "Give me a break," rather than "do us a favor," when he told Raffensperger: "Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break. You know, we have that in spades already."
No, Trump does not "have" more votes than those recorded. He lost Georgia, he lost the national popular vote by a record margin and he lost the Electoral College.
Both these famous phone calls featured Trump haplessly targeting Joe Biden, who is now president-elect. Both sleazy efforts backfired. In both calls, Trump falsely accuses a female scapegoat of wrongdoing — one an ambassador, the other an election worker. And both calls prompted suspicions that the president crossed a legal line.
There are differences. Zelensky was a newly elected head of a foreign country, and the transcript shows him diplomatically appeasing a key ally. Raffensperger is an American state official defending his professional performance while on a hot seat he doesn't deserve.
Because he already has failed to govern and lost the election, Trump’s tone in this past weekend’s call was more pleading, ominous and desperate.
In both calls, however, Trump managed to force the entire Republican Party to serve his personal wishes and resentments.
The question is how long the GOP rank and file will stand for this once he leaves office. That depends on whether Republicans revert to being a political party, rather than the cult of a delusional demagogue.