The End of Trump

Donald Trump dressed as a sad clown

Ever since Donald Trump began his Presidential campaign in 2016, there has been an expectation that his balloon would pop.  People thought that his making fun of a disabled reporter would do it.  Some opined that his offensive remarks about Mexicans would be his undoing.  A lot believed his sexist comments on the Access Hollywood tape regarding grabbing women by the genitals would finish him off.  None of these crippled him: those who disliked him merely had more reason to despise him, myself included.  It seemed that Trump was accurate in his assessment that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone yet not lose any popularity.

Not even an insurrection against the government of the United States turned off his fans.   This was drowned in a flood of excuses and obfuscations.  This continues.

Certainly, he was weakened by the 2022 midterm results: most of his prominent handpicked candidates were defeated.  Kari Lake, the Trump-loving candidate for Governor of Arizona, has pursued election denial to the point of insanity.  Mehmet Oz proved to be a mistake in Pennsylvania, and Raphael Warnock triumphed in an otherwise solidly Republican Georgia. Rupert Murdoch bailed on him. His New York Post said it was time to turn to a new generation of leaders, specifically the Trump-adjacent Governor of Florida, Ron De Santis.   Nevertheless, Trump launched his Presidential bid for 2024.   It was regarded as tepid, lacking 2016’s vigour.  His act has become old.

However, what may have finished Trump off is the selection of the new Speaker.  At the time of writing, Kevin McCarthy has lost six ballots.  There are some 20 Falangists within the Republican caucus who will apparently not endorse McCarthy under any circumstances.  I refer to them as Falangists as this designation may be the closest ideological analogue to the present hard right of the GOP: it was a far right movement in Spain that was instinctively anti-liberal, anti-democratic, sympathetic (at least) to fascists and was key in overthrowing Spain’s democratically elected government during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

Despite the determination of these extremists, McCarthy’s ego will not permit him to give up the pursuit of power.  After all, the Speaker of the House is third in line to the Presidency. 

Trump endorsed McCarthy.  However the 20 Falangists, who supposedly are Trump’s most loyal acolytes, have decided to ignore their idol.  How this will end is anyone’s guess. Their present favoured candidate is Byron Donalds, who is only on his second term as a representative from Florida. His past, Wikipedia states, is somewhat colourful: “In 1997, Donalds was arrested for marijuana distribution; the charges were dropped as part of a pre-trial diversion program. In 2000, he pleaded guilty to a felony bribery charge as part of a scheme to defraud a bank.”

This moment tells us how Trump ends. It’s not when he became too insane for his followers, but rather, too sane.  

It’s painful to say it: from the GOP’s perspective, Trump is right. The Republicans should “take the win”, elect McCarthy Speaker, and start to exercise power and influence. With McCarthy in place, they can launch as many spurious impeachment attempts and investigations of Hunter Biden as they like.  They might even do some damage. 

However, McCarthy wouldn’t give the extremists, who represent less than 10% of his caucus, absolute control, nor should he.  It would create a terrible precedent if a minority could constantly keep their boot on the neck of a Speaker.  Furthermore, McCarthy has no fixed principles or ideas of his own: he will swim with the tide.  This should give the Falangists most of what they want.  They have decided most is not good enough: they want it all.  Trump has suggested, pragmatically, that most is sufficient.  They don’t agree.

Trump was never about detailed policy, but rather, a mood and a style. His base is comprised mainly middle-aged white people who are bewildered by changes to the economy and society.  The economic changes that have occurred since 1970 mean that a factory worker without a college education will find it very difficult to become middle class. This is not how it was in the 1950’s.  The social changes have resulted in far more openness and tolerance towards diversity. Marriage has become much more equal, there is now an awareness (call it “woke”) of historic injustice. 

But what if you were the beneficiary of historic injustice?  What if believing you are superior to say, gay people was a crutch which prevented you from appreciating your own insignificance?  If you felt this way, Trump was your guy; he was a snake oil salesman who told you that it was these other people that made your pay packet smaller and meant you couldn’t say rude words anymore. 

However, once the initial emotional release had expired, there was little to show for it.  There were only two ways forward: admit the mistake or double down.  Enough people admitted the mistake in 2020 to elect Joe Biden.  Plenty of Trump’s supporters doubled down.  Doubling down built on top of doubling down.  Now they intend to burn down the Republican Party as it has hit an organic limit on how far it can double down without repelling mainstream voters.  The Falangists are uncompromising; they simply do not care if this proves to be self destructive.

Take Lauren Boebert, one of the most prominent of the extremists.  She is a representative from Colorado.  She was barely re-elected in the 2022 midterms; yet, her district is solidly Republican.  A mainstream centrist Democrat, Adam Frisch, nearly defeated her: he lost by only a little over 500 votes. Why? While Frisch was an exceptional candidate, her constituents were also fed up with her and her antics.  Did she draw any lessons from this?  No, her return to Congress has been an act of doubling down to the point where she told off Trump (supposedly her “favourite president”) for backing McCarthy.

There was always going to come a point when Trump, the ultimate egoist, had to stop: he wants power, and “his people” were making that ever more difficult to achieve.  The Falangists have no such limits.  Yet they have the energy which helped Trump into power in the first place, and gave him outsized influence in the Republican Party.  This is where Trump ends: where he has to stop, but others do not.  He can only go so far, others don’t care.  He has a somewhat rational, if animal instinct, for self-preservation; the others only live for acclaim by Fox News commentators.  Finally, it may be over for him.  Unfortunately, the “movement” he spawned may carry on. 

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