There he was, on tape if not in person: Bill Stepien, the very campaign manager of Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, explaining calmly and matter of factly that President Trump lost, he and the candidate knew he had lost and every conspiracy theory and false claim and desperate attempt to stay in power was in the words of Bill Barr, bullshit. It wasn’t even begrudging nor presented as an admission. Just matter of fact.
Since polls now routinely show that Republican voters treat it as an orthodoxy that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, this was quite a thing to hear. Other than the candidate himself, a campaign manager speaks with more authority and knowledge about a campaign than anyone else. Indeed, often with considerably more than the candidate. This has been one of the most notable dimensions of the Jan. 6th hearings to date. The witnesses are mostly Republicans and they’re all friendly witnesses. Indeed, a lot of them are among the ex-President’s most diehard loyalists. Seeing faces you’re more accustomed to seeing on Fox News railing against the Deep State now calmly explaining how the President lost the election fair and square can’t help but be jarring.
And that wasn’t all. House Republicans have been saying for months that their top agenda item in 2023, if they reclaim the House, will be vengeance for the Jan. 6th committee investigation. Given how they’ve spoken about it one might have expected a 24/7 war room operation, counter-programming the hearings and defending the President. And yet elected Republicans have been conspicuously silent. Aside from some introductory whining they seem inclined to sit it out.
What starts to seem clear is that many elected Republicans are quite content to let Democrats and Liz Cheney knock Donald Trump off the electoral stage for them. Or at least knock enough polish off him to make the 2024 election a much more distant prospect. To be clear, this isn’t yet another prediction that “the fever is finally breaking.” Republicans seem just as wedded to Trumpism. They just don’t care about Trump himself. And that gets to another oddity about Bill Stepien as our representative Trumper. From his testimony and proud embrace of being on “Team Normal” you’d hardly guess that he is currently running the primary campaign of Harriet Hageman, who is attempting to unseat outcast Republican Liz Cheney. The entire premise and point of the Hageman campaign is the Big Lie and Cheney’s refusal to accept it. It is entirely a creation of Team Trump. And yet Stepien is running it as a self-identified member in good standing of Team Normal.
Did we miss something? Is he not really on Team Normal after all? Is he quitting the Hageman campaign? They’ve somehow washed their hands of Trump and the Big Lie while continuing to get them dirty again every day on the campaign trail running the campaign of candidates who won’t stop talking about it. They seem to have jettisoned Trump’s losing nonsense and shown up on Team Normal without any intermediate step of how they got from one place to another. No change of mind, no denunciation, almost like there’s no rather glaring contradiction, like nothing happened at all. They’re moonwalking away from Jan. 6th and the Big Lie while somehow pretending that it scarcely had anything to do with him in the first place and all the while running the political party for whom the Big Lie is the centerpiece doctrine.