Betting against 15 million Trumpists
Congress is counting on a backstop that doesn't exist
It’s one thing when the radicals are a tiny group of Antifa twentysomethings, bored kids and nonconformists, joined by smattering of Black racists, thieves and thugs in an effort to create some kind of “occupation” or statement like Portland’s CHOP, and the ongoing protests which have turned on even nice-guy President Biden. It’s quite another when 53 percent of Republicans would support former President Donald Trump for another run in a 2024 primary.
Even after everything that happened from November 3 up to January 6th, when Trump effectively exited the social media stage, losing his cherished direct connection with his supporters, a majority of Republicans are still willing to vote for him. To be clear, these are not the QAnon radicals who elected Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to Congress.
Greene received a total of 43,892 votes in the Georgia 14th CD primary on June 9, 2020 (40.3%), to John Cowan’s 22,862 (21.0%); in the August 11 runoff, she received 43,813 votes (57.1%) to Cowan’s 32,982. Greene received slightly less votes in the runoff than in the primary, with 30 percent less turnout.
The negative coattails of Trump and his loss managed to hand the Democrats both Senate seats, confusing voters (many of them the same ones who put Greene in Congress) by simultaneously pushing a “stolen election” voting scandal narrative and telling them to vote for David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in the January runoffs.
Trump’s biggest supporters truly believe that he was fighting for them to the end. Even those who knew him and worked for him in his administration admit that Trump was totally invested in a sincere belief that he really won the election. In his deep and extensive profile of GOP star and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, Politico’s Tim Alberta couldn’t get her to resolve the conflict of failing to publicly call out Trump on his lies, versus personally expressing her disdain for them.
“I understand the president. I understand that genuinely, to his core, he believes he was wronged,” Haley told me. “This is not him making it up.”
The former president’s entire life has been one of the Power of Positive Thinking. And the key to seeing one’s dreams come to pass is positive confession to the point of believing things that are objectively untrue. Nothing in this world can persuade Trump that he legitimately lost the election. His unwilling acceptance of his loss came only at the cost of lives, a horrifying attack on the seat of our national government, and over 200 (to date) prosecutions of his supporters, including an 18-year-old in Georgia who is sitting in jail without bond and 12 felony counts leveled at him.
To say “I understand the president” means saying you understand that he defies reality on a regular basis. In the November 3rd election, 158.4 million Americans voted, which works out to over 66 percent of eligible voters. This was a record in sheer numbers of votes. If about one third of those voters were registered Republicans, that means, at a minimum, 52.3 million, or about 73 percent of Trump’s votes, came from Republicans, and 53 percent, or 27.7 million, according to polls, believe they would vote for Trump again in 2024.
If even half of these really believed what OAN, Fox News, and Trump’s Twitter account had been pushing for months, that’s nearly 14 million Americans who are willing to fight for a lie, against an objective reality they believe to be an enormous conspiracy by an established “deep state” and institutional Republicans.
Antifa may be violent, and Trump’s deflections of “what about Antifa” may resonate in the media’s completely absurd coverage of their riots, but their real numbers are tiny compared to the outsize estimates of the threat zooming around social media. The reactions of gun-toting (and Trump-supporting) groups is troubling. As a July local Oregon news report notes:
“They leaned in front of local businesses The Daily Bagel and Rick’s Smoke Shop wearing military fatigues and bulletproof vests, with blue bands tied around their arms. Most everyone seemed to be carrying something: flags, baseball bats, hammers and axes. But mostly, they carried guns.”
They needed firearms, participants said, because “antifa, paid by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, were being bused in from neighboring cities, hellbent on razing their idyllic town.”
This reaction wasn’t a rarity around the United States, especially in the West. Similar crowds of heavily-armed locals gathered in Coquille, Medford and the Idaho community of Coeur d’Alene around the same time. They were also awaiting the arrival of black-clad antifa militants.
They met. They waited. For nothing.
Those meetups were organized. A social media post from The Real 3%ers Idaho offers an example of how it happened. “We have credible intel tonight that antifa and other groups are planning a riot tonight in the Boise area,” the post warned. “Their plan is to destroy private property in the city and continue to residential areas.”
Of course, none of it was real or credible. None of the arrivals actually occurred. In this season’s weeks of protest and rallies, antifa has been hardly anywhere to be seen.
America needn’t worry about the Proud Boys, or the violent Boogaloo Bois, or the garden variety racist, white supremacist, and neo-Nazi groups that showed up at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” event. Yes, these are not “fine people.” But they’re a tiny minority whose influence amounts to nothing in terms of votes or political power.
The fact that main stream media has magnified their existence and power enormously, and that Trump mercilessly trolled the media, and inflamed the groups own view of themselves, has led to a backlash among otherwise sane and normal Republicans. They are rebelling against the media, the Democrats, and the institutional Washington-centered self-aggrandizing army of consultants, pundits, politicians, and lobbyists who discard journalistic and government ethics, practice corporate incest and nepotism, and get away with it.
Among this much larger group, which numbers in the millions, or the aforementioned 15 million figure, the January 6th riot was seen not so much as Trump-orchestrated, but an inevitable event in their movement. While a few hundred, or even a thousand, violent extremists are a cause for law enforcement and FBI concern, 15 million is a movement and a great threat.
This is why the Pentagon is hair-on-fire to “root out” ultra-right nationalists from within its ranks. This is no longer just a problem with a few bad apples, but a real hunt for anyone too enthusiastic about their support for the former commander-in-chief Trump. The New York Times reported on January 20th:
The F.B.I. investigation into the Capitol siege, still in its very early stages, has identified at least six suspects with military links out of the more than 100 people who have been taken into federal custody or the larger number still under investigation. They include a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel from Texas, an Army officer from North Carolina and an Army reservist from New Jersey. Another person with military service was shot and killed in the assault.
The military’s examination of its ranks marks a new urgency for the Pentagon, which has a history of downplaying the rise of white nationalism and right-wing activism, even as Germany and other countries are finding a deep strain embedded in their armed forces.
Democrats in the Senate, adhering to their credo “never let a crisis go to waste,” and its codicil, “keep the crises coming,” have cynically bungled both impeachments of Trump, in order to keep him artificially alive, knowing that he’s unlikely to win another national election. But like Ronald Reagan said, “the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.”
The big-D Democrats think that by enabling Trump once again, as Hillary Clinton did in 2016, they can keep the White House, the House and the Senate, because that’s what happened in 2020. But in their calculus, they’ve ignored the most important determinant in elections and governance. As Winston Churchill said in 1919, “the difficulties we have to face are only the difficulties of circumstances, and the opposition we have to encounter—the only opposition we have to encounter—is the opposition of events.” Or as it’s been attributed to another Brit, Harold MacMillan, the greatest challenge to any administration is “Events, my dear boy, events.”
For four years, Democrats have lived and prospered on the opposition of every event initiated by President Trump. In 2020, the pandemic paid off for them, as Trump’s inattention to detail, preference for off-the-cuff malapropisms and statements made out of ignorance, and his name-it-claim-it brand of optimist faith, crashed reality around him. By 2022, many of the things we’re so outraged about now will be long in the dust bunnies of history, shoved under the refrigerator by new outrages.
For example, the semi-permanent status of federal troops in Washington, D.C., along with Soviet-style fencing around the national Capitol is an affront to democracy. It was necessary in the days after January 6, and through Biden’s inauguration, but it’s nearly March, and the fencing is now there to stay. The Democrats’ justification is fear of more Trump violence, but without Trump being in Washington, and without his Twitter influence, it’s just not going to happen.
Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate could not, and would not, bring themselves to convict Trump and do the deed that needed to be done, to keep him, once and for all, from running again. Nikki Haley told Tim Alberta that Trump would not run again.
So, I asked, how should the president be held accountable?
“I think he’s going to find himself further and further isolated,” Haley said. “I think his business is suffering at this point. I think he’s lost any sort of political viability he was going to have. I think he’s lost his social media, which meant the world to him. I mean, I think he’s lost the things that really could have kept him moving.”
I reminded her that Trump has been left for dead before; that the base always rallied behind him. I also reminded her that the argument for impeachment—and conviction—is that he would be barred from holding federal office again.
“He’s not going to run for federal office again,” Haley said.
But what if he does? Or at least, what if he spends the next four years threatening to? Can the Republican Party heal with Trump in the picture?
“I don’t think he’s going to be in the picture,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I don’t think he can. He’s fallen so far.”
The GOP senators who voted for Trump’s conviction are those who came from safe states, like Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, which is conservative but decidedly anti-Trump, those whose constituency reaches across the aisle to Democrats like Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, or retiring, like Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina.
The only senator who took a big chance is Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. Cassidy was formally censured by unanimous consent of the state party. Sen. Ben Sasse has faced criticism, and may also face censure, but his reputation among Nebraska’s legal community and in much of the GOP is strong.
Every other Republican senator voted to acquit Trump, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has led Majority Leader Chuck Schumer around by the nose like a farmer leads an ox, determining the fate of the impeachment trial, and working with House impeachment managers to end the affair as quickly and bloodlessly as possible.
McConnell’s speech after Trump’s acquittal called the former president’s actions “a disgraceful dereliction of duty.” Yet McConnell wouldn’t vote to bar Trump from running again.
"In recent weeks, our ex-President's associates have tried to use the 74 million Americans who voted to re-elect him as a kind of human shield against criticism.
"Anyone who decries his awful behavior is accused of insulting millions of voters.
"That is an absurd deflection.
"74 million Americans did not invade the Capitol. Several hundred rioters did.
"And 74 million Americans did not engineer the campaign of disinformation and rage that provoked it.
"One person did.
"I have made my view of this episode very plain.
"But our system of government gave the Senate a specific task. The Constitution gives us a particular role.
"This body is not invited to act as the nation's overarching moral tribunal.
"We are not free to work backward from whether the accused party might personally deserve some kind of punishment.
McConnell, like Haley, thinks Trump can and will be stopped by civil and criminal trials, like the one possibly forming in Fulton County, Georgia. They both think that corporate America’s shunning of Trump, and Big Tech’s efforts to stymie his messages will keep him from accumulating power once again.
They may be very, very wrong.
History is determined by a series of current events, not past events. Even Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, dictator of Mexico during the Texas Revolution, after his surrender to Sam Houston at San Jacinto in 1836, was allowed to return to Mexico in disgrace, again assumed the presidency after leading an army to defeat the French in 1838. He stayed in power through 1855, even leading a military autocoup against his own people.
Every move the establishment makes to suppress Trumpism will be taken as more proof by its adherents that the 2020 election was stolen, despite every bit of objective evidence that it wasn’t. Trump has never wavered from his belief that he won—as Haley said, “he believes it.”
There are 15 million people in America who, even if they acknowledge Trump lost the 2020 election, believe that the forces arrayed against him conspired to create events in a way that made Trump lose.
Zack Stanton posed this as a question on mass radicalization last week in Politico.
Mass radicalization is a much larger phenomenon in which you have tens of thousands—if not millions—of individuals who are vulnerable to [extremist] messages they receive from really influential people. And then, there might be movement towards mobilizing those individuals. They still talk about personal grievances, but there’s a broader national political message there, [where] this is a battle between good and evil, where the other side is looking to undermine us and our way of life, and we all have a responsibility to challenge and confront the other side.
Trump will find another way to reach his people. Those people, fearing backlash, and seeing the ever-tightening wagon circle protecting Washington and its elites, will listen to Trump’s message. He is not going away, and at least for now, he is not appearing isolated. In his comments after acquittal, Trump made clear he’s got more to say, as Fox News reported.
"Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun," he said. "In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people. There has never been anything like it!"
The Senate had one more chance to stop Trump from seeking federal office. They punted, because they believe he can’t do it. Trump believes he can. Events change, and in two years, the GOP may not be in the position it is today. The calculating and cynical politics of keeping seats, and seeking more seats opens the door for another Trump run.
Trump is starting with millions of motivated people who still believe him, and a majority of registered Republicans who would vote for him again.
I don’t know what Nikki Haley and Mitch McConnell know, what special knowledge they think they have, but I don’t think they can predict events with any more accuracy than the cynical Democrats who want to keep Trump around to use as a permanent bogeyman.
All that matters to Trump is the possibility of what he believes with all his heart to be true. He wants to regain the office of president, and he wants to lead his MAGA movement. Our politicians have failed to provide a needed backstop as our founders intended. They’ve left it to local district attorneys and others to do the dirty work.
There are up to 15 million people in the MAGA movement who stand in the way of efforts to blunt Trump’s influence. There’s every reason to believe that the Senate’s action will result in violence in the next four years. They may have feared violence from convicting Trump, but they have likely guaranteed it by acquitting him.
And failing that, he could run again, and if events lined up, who’s to say that 74 million won’t vote for him next time? I’m not willing to make the same bet Mitch McConnell made, and that Nikki Haley, who wants to run in 2024, endorsed. But now the chips are set, and the bet is made.
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