PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) – As a rampaging band of his supporters scaled walls, smashed windows, used flag poles to beat up police and violated the United States Capitol in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election, Donald Trump’s excommunication from the Republican Party seemed a virtual certainty, his name tarnished beyond repair.
Some of his closest allies, including Fox News hosts like Laura Ingraham, warned that day that Trump was “destroying” his legacy. “All I can say is count on me. Enough is enough, ”said her friend and confidante Senator Lindsey Graham. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader who worked closely with Trump to radically reshape the justice system, later denounced him as “morally responsible” for the attack.
But a year later, Trump is hardly a leader in exile. Instead, he is the undisputed leader of the Republican Party and one of the main contenders for the 2024 presidential nomination.
Trump is positioning himself as a powerful force in the primary campaigns that will determine who gets party support ahead of the fall midterms, when control of Congress, governor’s offices and state polling stations is at stake. At least As of yet, there is not much to stop Trump as he makes his unwavering loyalty to his GOP vision a litmus test for success in the primary races, giving ambitious Republicans little incentive to cross it.
“Let’s just say I’m horribly disappointed,” said former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, a longtime Republican who now sits on the advisory board of the Renew America Movement, a group that tries to wrest the party away from it. control of Trump.
“His ego was never going to let him accept defeat and go quietly into the night,” she added. “But what surprises me is how deferential so many elected Republicans have been.
Rather than expressing any contrition for the events of January 6, Trump often seems emboldened and has continued to lie about his defeat in the 2020 election. He frequently – and wrongly – says that the “real” insurgency has taken place. take place on November 3, the date of the 2020 election when Democrat Joe Biden won a 306-232 Electoral College victory and by a margin of 7 million popular votes.
Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general said there was no credible evidence the election was tainted. The former president’s allegations of fraud have also been flatly rejected by the courts, including by judges appointed by Trump.
Intrepid, Trump is gearing up for another White House candidacy in 2024, and polls suggest that, for now, he would walk away easily with the GOP nomination.
For Trump, the extraordinary result is the product of sheer will and a campaign of disinformation that began long before the election, when he insisted the only way to lose was if the election was “rigged.” And did not commit to accept defeat. His refusal to accept reality flourished with the assent of most Republican leaders, who tend to overlook the seriousness of the insurgency for fear of fracturing a party whose base remains closely aligned with Trump and his efforts. to minimize the seriousness of what happened on January 31st. 6.
While five people died during the riots or their immediate aftermath, less than half of Republicans remember the attack as violent or extremely violent, according to a poll released this week by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs. About 3 in 10 Republicans said the attack was not violent.
The situation stunned and depressed critics from both political parties who believed the insurgency would force Republicans to abandon the Trump era once and for all. He became the first president in US history to be impeached twice. The second impeachment centered on his role in igniting the insurgency, but Trump was acquitted in a Senate trial, a clear indication that he would face few consequences for his actions.
“There was that hope when we were in the safe room that we would go back there and the Republicans would see how crazy it was, how fragile our democracy was, what President Trump had done, and what they did. would give it up and we would all come together, ”said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., describing the events of that day. Instead, she said, “there were people who stood up for the insurgents and who stood up for Trump and who continued the challenge and the Big Lie.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a Republican who, along with Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, has become one of the GOP’s few anti-Trump critics in Congress, predicted that Trump’s grip on the party would “disappear. By summer. But Kinzinger, who recently announced his decision not to stand for election, criticized Republican House leader and Trump ally Kevin McCarthy for proving him wrong.
“What I underestimated is the impact a person would have on that, and that is Kevin McCarthy and his visit to Mar-a-Lago,” Kinzinger said, referring to a trip which McCarthy performed in Florida in late January 2020 when the party was on the verge of disarray. With a view to taking over the house in 2022, Trump and McCarthy have agreed to work together and posted a photo showing them smiling side by side.
“Kevin McCarthy is rightfully, on his own, the reason Donald Trump is still a force in the party,” Kinzinger said. “This wholehearted embrace, which I saw firsthand among the members, not only scared them to confront Trump, but in some cases also wholeheartedly embraced him.”
Aides to McCarthy did not respond to a request for comment on Kinzinger’s characterization.
Others, however, point to fractures that suggest Trump’s power is waning.
Banned from Twitter and deprived of his other megaphones on social media, Trump no longer controls the news cycle as he did in office. He canceled a press conference that was scheduled for Thursday following pressure from some Republican allies, who warned such an event was misguided.
In last year’s most important election, Republicans like Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin strategically held Trump at bay. Youngkin’s victory created a possible model for candidates running in battlefield states where suburban voters uncomfortable with the former president are a key bloc.
While Trump’s endorsement remains coveted in many primary races midway through, it has also failed to clear the field in some key races. Trump has also struggled to prevent other Republicans from eyeing the 2024 presidential nomination. His former vice president, secretary of state and a handful of Senate allies have frequently visited states for early voting, preparing for potential campaigns and refusing to rule out running against Trump.
“When someone leaves the most powerful office in the world, the Oval Office, to sit by the pool in Mar-a-Lago, their influence wanes,” said John Bolton, former national security adviser from Trump. Bolton has funded extensive national and state polls on the subject over the past year, which have found Trump’s influence and the power of his endorsement waning dramatically since he left office.
“I really think the evidence is clear that people are done with Trump,” Bolton said. “He’s still got support, but he’s on the decline. Honestly, it’s not dropping as fast as I would like and it’s not at zero. But among real people it is on the decline.
Trump is also facing a wave of investigations, including in New York, where prosecutors are investigating whether his real estate company has misled banks and tax officials about the value of his assets, inflating them to get advantageous loan conditions or by minimizing them to achieve tax savings. The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James confirmed this week that it has subpoenaed Trump and his two eldest children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., in an investigation into the family’s business practices. Both children have been important political surrogates for Trump.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the Jan.6 committee continues to investigate Trump White House’s involvement in the deadly insurgency.
Trump still has his eyes on 2024, even though he continues to be obsessed with the 2020 election. After spending 2021 fundraising and announcing his support for the candidates who perpetrated his election, the Trump team is preparing to pivot to help these candidates win with a strengthened rally schedule and financial support, including transfers to candidate accounts and targeted advertising.
Trump, according to allies, sees the midterms as a basis for his next campaign and intends to use the cycle to position himself for his party’s nomination.
Voting rights advocates, meanwhile, are increasingly concerned as states with republican legislatures push for legislation that would allow them to influence or overturn the vote in future elections. They fear what could happen if Trump-backed candidates for secretary of state and attorney general who say the election was stolen find themselves in positions that could influence the outcome in 2024.
“It’s a concerted effort to undermine our public’s confidence in the electoral system, so in 2022 and 2024, if they don’t like the election – and it’s Republicans – they can cancel it,” said Whitman, who also serves as co-chair of States United Action, a non-partisan nonprofit organization that aims to protect the integrity of future elections. “We are in a very, very fragile place.
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.
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