By Hayden Siratt
In the last four years, it seems that conventional politics have been turned upside down by the ascent of Trumpism. And the 2020 election was the spark that caused the Trumpism powder keg to explode into misinformation, conspiracy, and violence.
Such violence was put on display during the Capitol Insurrection. On January 6th, The United States Congress began the process of certifying the 2020 election. On the other side of the National Mall, President Trump held a rally at which he continued to deny the results of the election and even saying to his supporters “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” After his rally concluded, thousands of his supporters descended upon the Capitol to stop the election from being certified.
The mob quickly turned violent and broke into the Capitol shouting chants like “hang Mike Pence,” forcing Congress to evacuate and go into hiding. It took several hours for the Capitol Police to regain control of the complex, and in the ensuing chaos, five people lost their lives. A week later, President Trump was charged in the House of Representatives for incitement of insurrection, clearing the way for his impeachment trial in the Senate.
If Former President Trump had been convicted, he would have been barred from ever running or holding an elected office again, effectively cutting the head off the Trumpian snake. The Republican party would finally be free to move away from populism and back to the centre-right, positioning themselves for a comeback in the 2022 mid-terms and the 2024 general election. Yet, this proved not to be the case.
After a speedy trial in the Senate, seven Republican senators crossed party lines and voted to convict. However, the 2/3rd majority was not met, and Former President Trump was acquitted on February 13th.
Although most Republicans strongly indicated that they did believe that Trump incited the January 6th riots, they cited the lack of Senate jurisdiction— with Trump no longer being a sitting president– as reasons to acquit. Of greater concern are the few Republican senators who have become so indoctrinated by Trumpism that they believe that he did nothing wrong contrary to the overwhelming evidence. These senators have blindly given Trump their loyalty and will continue to back him no matter his actions and will continue to spread his misinformation.
Putting aside the fractures within the party, the Republican party as a whole missed the opportunity to finally move on from Trumpism despite it being handed to them on a silver platter. Analysing the trial as a political move, the Republicans had all the ammunition they needed to justify this political manoeuvre and end Trumpism. The Constitution and precedent clearly line out that the Senate has jurisdiction over impeachment trials even if the defendant no longer holds office. The full transcript of Trump’s speech, in which he repeatedly denies the results of the election and tells his supports to never concede, offers plenty of evidence for conviction. The Republicans let the perfect opportunity slip through their fingers.
Although many Republicans were appalled by Trump’s actions, Trump still maintains a strong base in the Republican party. He is poised to secure the nomination in 2024, or at least be a major headache for moderate Republicans like Liz Cheney, Nikki Haley, and Mitch McConnell who wish to take back control from extremists and redefine the party. If Trump does secure the nomination, a likely possibility given the size of his base, it is doubtful he would win the general election.
This is especially true due to his actions over the past few months following the election. The Former President has lost the respect of many Republicans and Independents with around 19% of Republicans and 49.6% of Independents believing he should be barred from holding public office ever again. With Republicans already fleeing the party in droves because of Trump, him running again in 2024 would effectively ensure re-election for the Democrats.
Trump has caused a divide in the Republican party between moderate Republicans and ‘Trumpian’ Republicans. Already, Mitch McConnell is preparing to become the new face of a moderate Republican party. In the 2022 mid-terms, Mitch McConnell and the moderate Republicans will seek to stuff the Republican party in Congress with moderate candidates in an effort to stamp out Trumpism and extremism in the party. However, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and other extreme Republicans will try to take over Trump’s base and push for more Trumpian candidates. The Republican party is set for a massive feud in the primaries next year which may lead to party fracturing down the line.
If Trump decides to run in the primaries in 2024 and is narrowly defeated, then it is possible that Trump may start his own third party. Trump has repeatedly tossed around the idea of starting his own third party, and with the current fractures in the GOP, it makes a third party all the more possible. In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt formed his own third party—The Progressive Party—which split the vote with the Republican party, allowing for Democrat Woodrow Wilson to easily win the election. If Trump forms a strong enough party which can survive past just one election it is likely the Democrats will see smooth sailing for at least the next ten years. This is very possible given the size and loyalty of his base and his Trumpian Republican senators and representative allies.
By being too concerned with political backlash and too disoriented to form a coherent strategy for the whole party, the Republican party missed the perfect opportunity to cut off its rotting limb and distance itself from Trump and his movement. It is still possible for the Republican party to stamp out Trumpism over the next few years, but it is equally as likely for his influence to grow enough to see his comeback or the mantle passed on.
If the Democrats swing moderate Republicans and solidify control over the Independents by passing more centrist policy, as well as ease the tensions and chaos created over the past four years, they can demonstrate to the American people that they are the party of stability. And as a result, they will stay in power for many years to come.