The end of Trump and Trumpism?

Anders Åslund describes Trump’s embarrassing exit as US president and the silver lining of the failed insurrection.

The failed insurrection in Washington on January 6 has hopefully ended not only the political career of President Donald Trump, but also Trumpism. It is difficult to see how his crown princess Ivanka Trump can make a political career after this.

For about a month, Trump had made it clear that he would stage a coup on January 6 to stop the certification by the US Congress of Joe Biden as the next President. He repeatedly called his followers to come to Washington and “be wild”. A large part of central Washington was closed off for traffic on January 5-7, and the mayor had warned people not to go to the city centre. The offices of the Atlantic Council are located two blocks from the White House, and we were strictly prohibited to enter. Everybody knew what to expect after two previous Trump attempts at riots, one in November and one in December. They had attracted a few thousand white supremacists looking for a fight with supporters of democracy. Most prominent are the all-male Proud Boys.

Given this scary starting point, what happened on January 6 was the best of all plausible developments. It was obvious there would be a Trump coup, but it failed spectacularly and embarrassingly so. Little could have been more amateurish. Still, one woman-rioter was shot dead, so this was serious. Beyond her, three people died from medical conditions during the rioters’ takeover, and the US Capitol Police just recently confirmed the death of one of their officers. But that is a relatively small loss when an incumbent president launches a coup. When Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych launched an anti-democratic coup in January 2014, 125 people were shot dead until he fled in February.

Trump left himself with no margin of deniability. He spoke to the rioters outside the White House and told them to march on the Capitol: “We’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you.” He continued: “You’ll never take back your country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.” His son Donald Jr. and Rudolph Giuliani also agitated them. Needless to say, Trump did not walk with the mob but stayed watching television in the White House. Yet, his direct culpability was properly televised.

The mob was not very large, perhaps a few thousand, but they did break into the Capitol when both chambers of Congress were in session, and they caused considerable damage. The Congress had to take a break for six hours. By interrupting parliamentary proceedings, Trump has disqualified himself among the Republican party. After this, it is difficult to believe that Trumpism will survive after the Trump presidency, which previously had seemed all too likely. Now Trump has become just a delusional sour loser. From now on, to be with Trump is to be against democracy.

Until the presidential elections, Trump had consolidated his control of the Republican party, but now he has been alienated through his refusal to recognize that he has lost the election and his persistent lies that he won “by a landslide”. His mental state seems very strange. It also appears that Vice President Mike Pence has taken over much of the actual White House management, as Trump only obsesses about the election result.

Two of the congressional leaders had taken a clear stand against the president even before Trump’s coup attempt. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnnell had overruled Trump’s veto on the defense bill on New Year’s Eve, and the number three Republican in the House of Representatives, Liz Cheney, had also made her distance known. On January 6, Pence distanced himself from Trump, even if he stopped short of condemning him, which McConnell did.

It is difficult to imagine a more ludicrous target than the Congress, which now has a duty to turn against Trump. Before the insurrection, Trump had the support of 13 out of 100 senators in his questioning of the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. After the coup attempt, his support had shrunk to six and seven, respectively, on these two disputes. Two young leaders, senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, who had presented themselves as tentative presidential candidates for 2024, will now be happy if they can stay as senators.

In the evening of January 4, Trump and Ivanka were in Georgia. He was supposed to support the two incumbent Republican senators, but instead he continued to obsess about the election that he claimed had been stolen from him and attacked the Republican state officials in Georgia, who had refused to falsify the election to his advantage. Presumably, Trump’s appearance in Georgia tipped this special election of two senators to the Democrats’ advantage, so that the Democrats won a majority in the Senate. Naturally, the Republicans will hold this against Trump.

In the morning of January 7, after many hours of Republican procedural harassment, the Congress certified Biden’s election victory. After two months of Trump objections, Biden’s presidency can no longer be questioned.

Since Trump himself instigated this insurrection, many voices were raised, not least from Democratic congresspeople, to remove him from power instantly, either through a new impeachment or preferably by invoking the 25th Amendment. This allows the vice president with a majority of the cabinet to remove the president, if he has become incapacitated. These demands are sufficiently loud that even Trump has now accepted to help Biden with the transition.

I have not been so cheerful for at least four years.

Anders Åslund
Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington and at Stockholm Free World Forum