Rather than being scarred by his defeat, Trump has weaponized it. That’s why Trump might run again in 2024
Was Donald John Trump responsible for the January 6 mayhem which shamed the United States globally? The answer: Yes and No.
Trump, whose presidency ended in disgrace but who is still in virtual control of the Republican Party, did not organize the protests by thousands of his crazy fans who believed that their leader had been illegally forced out of the White House.
Yes, he did call for the January 6 gathering and he did parrot to the crowds his favorite theme: He won the presidential battle by a landslide but votes stuffed illegally into ballot boxes had handed over the country’s baton to Joe Biden.
Trump added, suddenly in his 1 hour 13-minute speech: “After this, we’re going to walk down – and I’ll be there with you.” Trump didn’t walk anywhere. The “we” was figurative. Asked by an aide why he spoke about walking, Trump replied: “I didn’t mean it literally.”
But the damage was done.
Just when the President retweeted a video of his Ellipse speech, rioters began to breach the Capitol door. In 20 minutes, they entered it. Within two minutes, Vice President Mike Pence, who refused to do Trump’s bidding, was pulled from the Senate. As the House and Senate adjourned, one demonstrator shouted: “This is f--king history. We’re all part of this f--king history.” Someone echoed: “Let’s burn this shit down.” Much of the crowd kept screaming: “Stop the steal, stop the seal, stop the steal… We want Trump, We Want Trump, We want Trump.”
Trump was still living in a world of his own. He did not bother to call the Vice President. None in the White House saw the assault on the Capitol as the nail in the coffin of the Trump administration. By the time Trump began saying the mob was “not our people”, the campaign HQ, without consulting him, canceled all sanctioned media appearances by Trump supporters. Twitter booted him out. So did Facebook. Everybody in the Trump world was off television.
But a reading of Michael Wolff’s book – a good successor to his “Fire and Fury”, which contributed to a questioning of Trump’s competence and mental standing – makes one wonder if Trump could have behaved in any other way after defeat.
Here was a President who had a preternatural confidence. How could he possibly lose to Biden? He was a natural winner and Biden an obvious loser. Trump had contempt for Biden, who he saw as the stupidest, not just prone to verbal errors but senility.
Just who was the man who presided over the US for four long years?
According to Wolff, Trump ran the government with scant idea of rules and practices. He was data averse. He was a 74-year-old businessman who did not use a computer and could not work a spreadsheet. He could receive neither email nor texts. Covid, he felt, did not need face masks or sanitizer. If too many in his team were hit by Covid, he simply had the tests halted so that more cases could not be identified. He was disorganized and had a constant sense of victimhood. “Nine-tenths of what came out of his mouth was blah-blah.”
Who ran the US from the time Trump lost the election and Biden was sworn in? Even in normal times this question would not have had a straightforward answer. Now Trump’s interests superseded everything else. All daily briefings were axed, including on national security. Never before had a sitting President so abdicated his proscribed and daily duties.
Indeed, the 2020 campaign was the most cursed in history. The Trump campaign may have raised more money than any other but Trump had no idea where the money was going. He saw wrongs where there was no wrong. The Covid-induced mail-in voting was seen as an illegal attempt by the Democrats to increase their strength.
When the vote count began, Trump convinced himself, thanks to his cronies, that he was on the road to a grand victory. When the results started going the other way, he concluded there was a giant fraud, a massive steal. Once Fox News called Arizona for Biden, he called it treachery. If counting was stopped anywhere, it was to stuff ballot boxes! Even after the US media declared Biden the winner, Trump was pontificating that he had won by a landslide. His hardcore argued that computer systems were programmed to switch Trump votes to Biden votes. The reality is except Trump and his newfound buddy, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, nobody believed the fantasy in his own circles.
Tragically, as Trump played the victim card, support for him from among millions of fans hardened. It didn’t matter that over 50 separate lawsuits against the “steal” had collapsed. But such was the support for him that his campaign raised $200 million even after his defeat. His supporters were now seeking revenge.
From here, January 6 was waiting to happen.
Wolff says that Trump absolutely believes he has been forced out of office by an election coup that involves almost all aspects of modern society and its coordinated power centres organized against him. His proposition is that he is the Republican Party. It has no future without him. Rather than being scarred by his defeat, Trump has weaponized it. That’s why Trump might run again in 2024.
Title: Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency; Author: Michael Wolff; Publishers: The Bridge Street Press; Pages: 313; Price: Rs 799
(The reviewer is a New Delhi-based veteran journalist who writes on diplomacy and politics. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)