Photo: Donald Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy after their Jan. 28 meeting. Credit — Save America PAC
By January 12, six days after the fascist-led assault on the U.S. Capitol Building that imperiled the lives of top leaders of the U.S. government, it appeared that Donald Trump’s political future was coming to a crashing end. The Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a letter pledging allegiance to Joe Biden and calling the attack sedition and insurrection. Big banks and corporations broke ties with Trump. Segments of the Republican establishment started to distance themselves from him.
Three weeks later, Trump is hosting the most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives at his Mar-a-Lago resort to discuss fundraising and strategy for the midterm election, and looking forward to a virtually assured acquittal at his impeachment trial in the Senate. How did Trump’s fortunes turn around so dramatically after he incited a mob of his supporters to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, and who bears responsibility for this extremely dangerous development?
The meeting yesterday between Trump and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the highest ranking Republican in the House, was the most direct embrace yet between the former President and his party’s establishment since the Jan. 6 putsch. McCarthy was pleased to report at the conclusion of the meeting that, “President Trump committed to helping elect Republicans in the House and Senate in 2022” and lauded the Trump administration for delivering “historic results for all Americans”. A statement from Trump’s political action committee expressed similar determination for 2022 and boasted that “[Trump’s] endorsement means more than perhaps any endorsement at any time.”
McCarthy then launched a fundraising website for the midterm election called “Trump’s Majority”. Its homepage is superimposed over an image of Trump and McCarthy shaking hands. A report in Politico claims that Trump has also been invited to attend the Republican National Committee’s high-profile spring donor meeting in April.
On Jan. 26, 45 Republican Senators voted to declare the impeachment proceeding against Trump unconstitutional. While the 55 “no” votes technically carried the day, it revealed that there are more than enough Trump supporters to block the two-thirds majority needed to secure a conviction. 17 Republican Senators would have to vote with every Democrat to convict Trump, but only five even think that it’s legal for them to consider the question. Rand Paul, who introduced the motion to dismiss the impeachment trial as unconstitutional, proclaimed, “This vote indicates it’s over. The trial is all over.”
Democrats now seem to want to just get the trial out of the way as soon as possible, and are unlikely to even call witnesses. “To do a trial knowing you’ll get 55 votes at the max seems to me to be not the right prioritization of our time,” lamented Virginia Senator and 2016 Vice-Presidential nominee Tim Kaine on Jan. 27, “Obviously we do a trial, maybe we can do it fast”. Exactly three weeks earlier, top Democrat Chuck Schumer was giving a speech on the floor of the Senate comparing Trump’s actions with the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Why does the Republican establishment want to resurrect Trump?
Donald Trump staged a hostile takeover of the Republican Party in 2016, and following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol many Republican elites were anxious to put an end to his domination of the party. Their decision to reverse course and do just the opposite can be explained in part by the utter failure of the Democrats’ strategy in the aftermath of Jan. 6, which revolved around an attempt to sideline Trump through impeachment.
“Because the most severe punishment under consideration if Trump is found guilty is being barred from seeking the presidency again in the 2024 election, it will be easy for him to spin the trial as an anti-democratic effort by his political opponents to deprive the American people of their right to elect whoever they choose as president … If they continue on this path, it makes Trump the center of attention and also allows him to reinvigorate his currently demoralized base of hardcore supporters by casting himself as the target of persecution by the political establishment — the same thing he did during the farcical 2020 impeachment.”
Instead of arresting Trump immediately for seditious conspiracy, something that would absolutely be warranted for his effort to overturn the result of the 2020 election by force, the Democratic Party elites chose to engage in what was essentially an act of political theater. The optics and political dynamics of an impeachment trial seemed tailor made for Trump. Most Republican Senators chose not to walk into this trap.
Besides the Democrats’ bumbling incompetence, the other main advantage Trump had was the threat that he could form a far right third party, which news reports claim he wanted to call the “Patriot Party”. Because the United States has a winner-take-all electoral system, the Republican Party would be facing a wipeout of historic proportions if a newly-formed Patriot Party was able to siphon off even a minority of Republican voters.
Short of an outright split, the enduring popularity of Trump among Republican Party voters means that any politician who defies him has to consider the possibility that they will face a formidable primary challenge. A Morning Consult poll published on Wednesday found that 81 percent of Republican voters have a favorable view of Trump. Only 23 percent said they think Trump should “no longer play a role” in the party. A poll released this week by YouGov and The Economist found that 72 percent of Republican voters agree with Trump’s assertion that Biden’s election was illegitimate, the baseless claim that motivated the assault on the Capitol.
The Morning Consult poll found that 35 percent of Trump voters would defect to the “Patriot Party” if it were formed, and only 31 percent were sure that they would stick with the Republican Party.
Not only is Trump back on the scene politically, his rehabilitation lends further legitimacy to a new crop of fascistic elected officials making waves on the national scene such as Representatives Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene. The Republican establishment may grow to regret their decision to make peace with Trump. It is a mistake frequently made throughout history by conservative ruling class factions who believe they can use an increasingly unhinged and violent far right to their advantage.
Biden’s play for “unity” with the right wing
The core strategy of the Biden administration is to forge an alliance with as large a section of the Republican Party as possible. The hope is that such a maneuver would lower tensions between elite factions and facilitate a “return to normal” that would recuperate the legitimacy and prestige the U.S. ruling class lost both at home and abroad over the course of Trump’s chaotic tenure in office. In his first days in the White House, Biden signed a number of executive orders implementing progressive policy changes in the hopes of placating the liberal wing of the Democratic Party until they can be sidelined by a broad “centrist” coalition united around fundamentally right wing politics.
But the debate over Biden’s proposed stimulus package shows that there is little appetite among Republicans for this alliance. This approach has been made even more farcical by the reentry of Trump to the political scene. Trump will undoubtedly seek to use his reestablished influence to shoot down any substantive cooperation with the man he insists stole the presidency from him through massive voter fraud.
Biden could have taken advantage of Trump’s momentary isolation to have him arrested for seditious conspiracy while simultaneously advancing a package of sweeping reforms that could be passed without a single Republican vote in Congress. Measures like the introduction of a living wage, the cancellation of student debt and universal healthcare would appeal to many who have been taken in by Trump’s demagogic anti-establishment posturing.
Instead, the Democratic Party elite’s timidity has created a dynamic where Biden will always be racing to catch up with an ever-rightward moving Republican Party whose de facto leader is Donald Trump.