With the electoral defeats and the storming of the Capitol building plummeting his approval rate, Trump has left the White House as one of the most unpopular Presidents ever. There are however unwavering supporters on which he could rely to renew his efforts towards the Presidency.
Even to the most inattentive observer, it is clear that after losing both chambers of Congress, the Presidency and arguably having incited an assault on the symbol of American democracy, public support for Trump has sunk. To find an outgoing President whose approval rating is lower than Trump’s, one must go all the way back to Nixon, who resigned from office due to the Watergate scandal. The Trump-centred conspiracy theory known as QAnon is in turmoil too. Just as the final wave of Presidential pardons became public, benefitting personalities such as Lil Wayne, Kodak Black and Steve Bannon, the Trump supporters who stormed the Congress in January realised they were left on their own. The countless failed prophecies by Q (the last one involving Trump’s ace-up-the-sleeve during Biden’s inauguration) fell short of reality, and many QAnon believers began to wonder whether the conspiracy describing Democrats as a cabal of satanic paedophiles was a ruse. Some of them, for instance the notorious horned shaman Jake Angeli, were ready to testify against Trump in the Senate impeachment trial for ‘incitement of insurrection’.
The shift away from Trump is also reflected by a considerable decline in the loyalty of institutional Republicans. Already in the early months of the pandemic, a number of former Republican officials sided against Trump, mostly joining an association known as The Lincoln Project, promoting a return to evidence-based public health policies and the restoration of Presidential decorum. By 2021, around 70% of former Republican administrations’ officials severed their ties with the Republican Party. Still, until the storming of the Capitol building on January 6th, GOP Congresspeople were reluctant to oppose the President, as it would have meant cutting one’s electoral chances. However, after this attack countless Trump administration officials quit. Allegedly, those who did not remained only out of fear that the President, feeling betrayed, could appoint loyal fanatics. In the last weeks, Mitch McConnell, former Senate Majority Leader and a pivotal supporter of Trump’s policies, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, known QAnon believer, after the re-emergence of the latter’s claim that the 2018 California wildfires were caused by a Jewish space laser. McConnell has clarified that conspiracy theories and lies are endangering the future of the Republican Party.
It would seem like the GOP is rapidly going to shed its Trumpian heritage. In reality, this is still impossible. Some confessed they cannot oppose Trump, although he is not in office anymore, because there are extremely radicalised communities in their constituencies, and these might go after them or their families. Moreover, it is likely that the storming of the Capitol is not going to alienate Trump from the electorate. The Economist has pointed out that around 50% of Republican voters support the insurrection. Hence, there is a core of unflinching Trump supporters, insensitive to the threats that Trump’s authoritarian populism poses to the integrity of the American democracy. Contrarily to intuitive guesses, the main social group remaining loyal to Trump is not the socioeconomically disadvantaged blue-collar working class, but the wealthiest strata of the population in exurbia and rural areas. In broad strokes, these individuals fear that recent developments in civil rights, political correctness and distributive justice will threaten their lifestyle, wealth and political power. They believe that their ethical tenets and religious affiliation – often evangelicalism – are being threatened by cosmopolitanism and diversity. Generally, they feel that globalisation is directly challenging the US and its global supremacy. They have found in Donald Trump the perfect channel to convey all their disdain for liberal democracies and openness in society, and they are mostly willing to forfeit any polite façade to resist them.
While leaving the White House, Trump has repeatedly expressed the conviction to start a new political project, probably labelled ‘Patriot Party’. Since he was not impeached, which would have barred him from running for any federal office, he could effectively return for the 2024 Presidential Elections, consistently relying on the aforementioned illiberal voting body. Republican Congresspeople are now facing a dilemma: either dismiss Trump, at least formally, to avoid the possible exodus of voters to the Patriot Party, while rejecting the political support of extremists like Greene, or continue to uphold the former President, hoping he will not betray the Republican Party. The GOP Senate Minority Leader McConnell is seemingly pursuing the former strategy; he denounced Trumpism moments after acquitting Trump in the second impeachment trial. In fact, due to the strictly bipolar party system in the US, only if Republicans manage to marginalise authoritarian zealots and avoid the creation of the new Trump’s party, they can hope to achieve any electoral success in the near future.
Donald Trump av Gage Skidmore. CC BY SA 2.0