Extremists and Disappearing Republican Moderates

Donald Trump’s extremist white supporters like the nationalist Proud Boys and the militant Oath Keepers who participated in the siege of the Capitol have virtually created a fifth column bent on subversive activities.

These mostly armed Trump militia are anathema to America and its more than two centuries of government of the people, by the people and for the people.

The revolutionary intentions of white supremacists and their ilk that are based on Trump’s Big Lie that he won the election is another pandemic that can prove just as deadly as the coronavirus. It already has.

Colin Clarke, a domestic terrorism expert at the Soufan Group, a global intelligence and security consultancy, told The Washington Post the siege of the Capitol marked a “proof of concept” for extremists who pose a danger.

The term proof of concept means evidence from an experiment that shows a design project is feasible. The Capitol attack was just such an experiment.

“They talk about things like this in a lot of their propaganda,” Clarke said, referring to extremists. “And the fact that the Capitol Police allowed this to happen, you can call it a security breach, or intelligence failure, but these people do not look at this as a failure, they look at it as an overwhelming success, and one that will inspire others for years.”

What lends weight to extremist motivations is Trump’s potential re-emergence as a GOP power broker and a possible presidential candidate in 2024. This despite his second House impeachment, the latest on charges of inciting insurrection by thousands of his followers at the Jan. 6 Capitol riots in which five people were killed.

Trump’s Senate trial begins Feb. 9. Republicans there, some of whom criticized the unstable former president for his role in the riots, now have nearly fully backed him on grounds the proceeding would be unconstitutional because he no longer is in office.

Experts have said the Constitution does not prevent impeachment after an official leaves office. But it happened in 1876 when the House impeached Secretary of War William Belknap. The Senate acquitted him.“The theory that the Senate can’t try former officials would amount to a constitutional get-out-of-jail-free card for any president who commits an impeachable offense,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer of New York said.

But Trump’s second acquittal is just about a foregone conclusion, regardless of the Democrats’ seemingly ironclad case against him. Much of it is on video. Conviction requires 67 of 100 votes. A follow-on majority vote would bar Trump from running for office again.

Conviction would be an opportunity to purge him from the Republican Party.

But most of those Republicans who enabled and bowed to Trump throughout his chaotic, lazy, spiteful, unhinged, unpardonable presidency are back on board even though he lost Congress and the White House for them. How’s that for appreciation?

Even the Republican leaders of the House and Senate, Kevin McCarthy of California and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, backed off their condemnation of Trump for inflaming the rioters. McConnell said initially that Trump had committed an “impeachable offense,” thus possibly losing standing as a party leader. Never underestimate Trump’s ability to survive.

McCarthy may have recognized that when he went to Temple Mar-a-Lago to make nice to Trump for having said he “provoked” the riots. He had a photo-op with him, tweeting afterward, “United and ready to win in ’22.” Would you trust Trump to keep his word?

Most congressional Republicans have returned to their Faustian bargain with Trump; he can do no wrong and cannot be held accountable for the wrongs he did.

Why? Because 74.2 million people voted for him. Republicans apparently are afraid of losing their seats come 2022 and 2024 if they don’t sidle up to him. He wields the threat of primarying his detractors.

Recent polling of voters leaning Republican showed 79 percent approved of how Trump handled the presidency and 57 percent said the party “should follow his leadership after the attack on the Capitol,” the Post reported. Incredible.

“We cannot take the House and Senate back without his [Trump’s] help,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., one of the previous president’s closest supporters, told the Post. “That’s just a fact.”

“It’s Donald Trump’s party right now,” the impeached president’s pollster, Jim McLaughlin, told the newspaper. “His agenda was right, and it was successful, and now he has all the right enemies – the establishment, the radical left and the media.”

Norman Ornstein, an emeritus scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, a policy outfit in Washington, lamented the loss of more moderate Republicans from the Senate.

“Trump was aided by right-wing media and the zealotry of his core supporters who lapped up his macho revanchist shtick and attacks on his and their perceived enemies more than any genuine expression of conservative ideology,” Ornstein wrote. “But he also benefitted greatly as major figures within his party failed to offer a different vision or to act to counter his destructive behavior.”

“. . . The Republican Party is increasingly captured by the extremism of the Trump strain, which is unwilling to make any sort of accommodation with Democrats,” he wrote. “Legislating becomes impossible, which fuels extremists’ charge that the system should be overturned rather than overhauled.”

A fifth column is a subversive secret group that tries to undermine the solidarity of a country. (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica.)

The term originated during the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War when a Nationalist general marched on Madrid with four army columns. He referred to a “fifth column” in the capital as militants trying to sabotage the government from within. Fascist Hitler and Mussolini supported the Nationalists, headed by Gen. Francisco Franco.

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.