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Why Were There 18 Calls?

January 7th, 2021 by dk

I read all about President Trump’s hourlong weekend phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. I listened to portions of the call, which had the tone and cadence of a condo developer trying to close a sale: “What’s it going to take to get you into that corner unit, enjoying that incredible view?”

I woke the next morning, haunted by a number: 18.

No, there wasn’t an 18-minute gap in this call, as there had been in one of the famously incriminating Nixon tapes. The estate of Rose Mary Woods can rest easy. Records show 18 phone calls placed last weekend from the White House to Raffensperger’s office. Eighteen!

Georgia officials claim they refused the calls because they suspected they were prank calls. I’ve received a call or two directly from the White House, so I can tell you the administration’s switchboard circumvents or confuses the Caller ID system.

Raffensberger’s explanation is not entirely unbelievable on the receiving end. It doesn’t begin to explain the actions of the sender. If you or I called somebody and they didn’t pick up, would we try 17 more times? I don’t think so.

It’s normal for there to be a preliminary call or two to arrange a high-level exchange like this one, settling on a time and a list of participants. But that still leaves more than a dozen unexplained attempts.

They paint a picture of the president or his underlings hitting redial like teenagers trying to score free concert tickets from a radio promotion. Or an Oregon resident trying valiantly to reach the state’s unemployment office. Or a jilted lover begging for just one more chance.

It would be pitiful if it didn’t involve the President of the United States. Add that detail to the equation and it’s downright frightening.

Is Trump in the state of mind where it makes sense to sit in the Oval Office on a Saturday, obsessively hitting redial, hoping a Republican elected official will take his call? Does he want to sell that corner condo so badly that he’d engage in telephonic begging? Did Raffensberger exhale before picking up, determined to tell the caller one more time in no uncertain terms that it’s over?

The call itself was nothing special, except for the fact that we no longer consider plaintive ramblings from the president as “special.” Tangent split off from tangent, never quite completing any single thought. A sadistic composition teacher would have her students diagram those sentences.

In a strange twist of meta-injustice, Trump’s incoherence may be his best legal defense. Fraud and conspiracy laws require prosecutors to demonstrate willful intent — mens rea, for legal nerds. If Trump actually believes there was fraud, his attempt to correct it might not be unlawful.

As Jeannie Suk Gersen wrote for The New Yorker, “Trump’s troubling mental state and habitual mendacity may well have coalesced and crescendoed to erode any discernible boundary between falsehood and delusion.”

You can never completely break up with a determined stalker. Raffensberger’s dilemma last weekend may be America’s fate for years to come.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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