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Will a Calamitous Week End Trump’s Grip on the Republican Party?

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Republican rats deserting the good ship “Trump” make an enjoyable spectacle as they hypocritically pretend that it was only the invasion of the Capitol by a fanatical mob that finally revealed to them the failings of Donald Trump.

Longer-term opponents of Trump are cock-a-hoop that they can credibly denounce him for egging on a “deadly insurrection” and an “attempted coup”, comparing the incursion to the burning of Washington by the British in 1814 and even to Pearl Harbour in 1941. This is an exaggeration since this was not an organised attempt to seize power, but an arch-fabricator like Trump is in no position to complain about others dressing-up facts in their own interests.

Most telling was the ease with which the Capitol was briefly occupied. The 2,000 Capitol police, with an annual budget of $460m, put up little resistance while videos show some of them facilitating the attack. Unsurprisingly, their tolerant response to the alt-right pro-Trump protesters is being widely condemned and compared with their brutal reaction to Black Lives Matter demonstrations last year. Racial bias by police in America is scarcely news but has seldom been so explicit or well-publicised.

It was gratifying to see Republican lawmakers scurrying out of the Capitol in fear of the very pro-Trump activists whose hatreds they have happily exploited for so long. But it is more important to try to understand what the Republican Party will do once the furore dies away, though the Democrats will do everything to make sure this does not happen and cast “the insurrection” as an equivalent to  9/11. A week ago it seemed likely that Trump could remain the most powerful force in the Republican Party for years to come, but no longer.

Dramatic events initially billed as turning points in history often turn out to be no such thing, but I think the invasion of the Capitol will live up to the hype – even if it was not exactly the storming of the Bastille. A better parallel might be the raid by the anti-slavery abolitionist John Brown in 1859 on Harpers Ferry further up the Potomac River from Washington. The circumstances may be very different, but both events galvanised and gave momentum to powerful political forces that were already on the move.

This was a calamitous day for Trump and Trumpism as they were battered by a series of disasters that hit them simultaneously. In a short space of time, the Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Mike Pence turned publicly against Trump in formally accepting Joe Biden as the next president. As they did so the Democrats won two Senate seats in Georgia, giving them a majority in the chamber, a defeat blamed by many Republicans on Trump.