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The non-retirement of a defeated man: the consequences

When Joni Mitchell said that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, I’m sure she was being sincere. Except with Donald Trump, we found out two weeks prior to his departure from office that American Democracy had gotten into a rather perilous place, with the incitement of insurrection and all that. I thought not hearing about Donald Trump’s daily thoughts would be rather tranquil. Perhaps too tranquil…

Yet it isn’t, because he is still there. Mar-a-Lago has become a strange Floridian purgatory. As Trump mulls an uncertain future, he continues to direct the actions of his party, intervening to skewer or laud his former allies, depending on the extent to which they believe in their newly defeated president.

Defeated candidates rarely go on to dictate the future of their party. When President Gerald Ford lost the 1976 election, the GOP moved on to the dynamic, media friendly Ronald Reagan. When President Bush Sr. lost, they regrouped under Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America. When McCain lost, they were re-energised by the burgeoning Tea Party movement. Yet Trump meanders on from his bunker, having cultivated a following that follows his every whim, a base that has yet to fracture, despite a conspicuous Twitter absence. This is unlikely to change after his acquittal.

Only Senator Murkowski of Alaska, buoyed by the open primary and ranked choice voting in her state, felt confident enough to convict Trump of his latest crimes and face the electorate next election cycle. She was joined by a rag tag of retirees, newly re-elected cynics and another presidential runner-up, Mitt Romney.

In such a polarised nation, impeachment was somewhat futile. Even making the jurors themselves witnesses to the last of Trump’s high crimes was not enough to convict the ‘inciter-in-chief’. It’s not surprising, considering that the method for electing Senators has long entrenched a minority rule. Party fanaticism is almost omnipresent within the Senate, the supposed saucer to the hot teacup of day-to-day US Politics.

Moving on from impeachment, Republicans have an in-built electoral advantage in federal elections, due to the greater weighting of representation assigned to less-populated states whilst large Democratic States like California and New York have lots of ‘wasted’ votes. It is therefore remarkable that the GOP is so far sticking by their defeated one-term president, who was capable of losing the White House and both houses of Congress in just 2 election cycles. Except it isn’t really a Grand Old Party anymore. Whilst there were once civil disagreements within the Big Tent, Trump’s dramatic rise and unexpected 2016 victory meant civil disagreement was rolled over by cultish loyalty and vitriol – the same vitriol now being imitated by ‘(F)lying Ted’/Cancun Cruz among others, as he eyes a second run for the Oval Office.

Republicans in many ways brought Trump on themselves, for decades arguing for the merits of largely unchecked capitalism that left Americans exploited and disengaged from the political process (and it’s not as if most Democrats can be excluded from this either). Then in 2016, after galvanising on this disenchantment under the guise of a populist demagogue, the largely ‘winner-takes-all’ primary system made Trump’s path to the nomination straightforward. He won the nomination with just 45 percent of the vote.

Part of me would like Trump to run again in 2024 simply because I don’t think he’ll win. I just can’t see the majority of Americans watching the storming of the Capitol and then decide that Trump should be rewarded with a return to power. I doubt the family patriarch will, but I wouldn’t bet against a younger, smoother Trump throwing their MAGA hat into the ring.

Either way, the Republicans need to move away from their latest presidential loser, not just for their electoral prospects, but for democracy’s sake. A sincere message of hope and longing, set out of a scene of desperation; Joni Mitchell would approve…   

Image: via Flickr

By Callum Devereux

Editor-in-Chief, May-September 2022
Former Deputy EiC & Opinion Editor

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