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Trumpism has lost its legitimacy

Republicans have till now indulged Trump, but being confronted with his violent supporters was the last straw.

Mr Trump has squandered any newfound political capital through his narcissistic and destructive pursuit of reversing his loss.

JAN 6 of this year will now be an infamous day in American history. Emboldened but delusional supporters of US President Donald Trump intent on halting congressional certification of the presidential election breached the landmark Capitol building in what at best could be described as a riot, and at worst, an insurrection. Breaking through windows and braving tear gas, they were kept at gunpoint from entering the House Chamber where members of the House of Representatives were instructed to take shelter under tables and benches.

This dark day was the inevitable culmination of the misinformation and instigation by Mr Trump, his deputies and high-ranking members of the Republican party over the past four years. When it was all over, Mr Trump had achieved nothing from both his supporters' coup attempt and his allies' congressional objections - the certification was eventually completed, and President-elect Joe Biden's victory was affirmed.

Rather than making any sort of progress in the unlikely goal of overturning the election, Mr Trump singlehandedly forced a messy divorce between his cult and the Republican Party.

Even before Trump supporters descended on the Capitol, Republicans were reeling from the overnight loss of two Senate seats in the state of Georgia's runoff election, narrowly handing control of the Senate to Democrats. Notable state Republicans have blamed Mr Trump for their defeat in a race that was thought to favour them.

Since his own election loss, Mr Trump has been unwilling to set aside his defeat and turn his attention towards galvanising support for the party. Tasked with campaigning on behalf of Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Purdue, he instead continued to voraciously deride the integrity of the election, which had the effect of discouraging his supporters from voting in what they believe to be a rigged contest.

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Personal gripes

The loss of the Senate has shown Republicans that Mr Trump is incapable of setting aside his personal gripes and supporting the team. Since his defeat, he has shown no interest in anything other than futile attempts to overturn the result of the election; more to sooth his own ego than a cunning and calculated strategy to retain power. Ms Loeffler and Mr Purdue, who closely aligned themselves with Mr Trump, were consigned to defeat.

With the loss of the Senate not even a day old, the president held a rally where he attacked and threatened moderate Republicans and Vice-President Mike Pence.

Along with his allies, he explicitly directed his followers to converge on the Capitol building to pressure Republicans into delivering the implausible.

During the riot, Mr Trump responded by fanning the flames and attacking Mr Pence with now censored tweets. The vice-president was evacuated from the Capitol soon after, and it is suggested that he overrode Mr Trump in activating the National Guard - a power usually exercised by the president.

Many Republicans have till now indulged Mr Trump's unlikely attempts to overturn the election, but being confronted with violent Trump supporters at their literal doorstep seems to have been the last straw.

Several congressional Republicans have simply changed their mind about supporting Mr Trump's baseless claims the very same evening. This included Senators Lindsey Graham, who said "count me out, enough is enough" on the Senate floor, and Ms Loeffler, who had up till that moment been a leading proponent of Mr Trump's baseless claims of electoral fraud.

Some White House Staff, ranging from the First Lady's chief of staff to national security officials, have either resigned or are considering resignation, and members of Mr Trump's own Cabinet are reportedly discussing the invoking 25th Amendment to have the president removed from power.

Whether it is because they were shaken by the events or because supporting the president has become politically untenable, many Republicans have started abandoning ship, condemning the behaviour of the rioters and the president himself.

Maintaining his grip

The large turnout of Trump supporters in the 2020 election was an affirmation of Trumpism that firmly entrenched Mr Trump at the centre of the Republican party. Had he been a more cunning or astute political operator, he might have leveraged his supporters' misguided beliefs in his alternate reality to maintain his grip on the Republican Party for a political career in opposition, potentially enabling a second run for president in 2024.

Instead, Mr Trump has since squandered any newfound political capital through his narcissistic and destructive pursuit of reversing his loss. By presiding over the loss of the Senate and an attack on Capitol in the span of 24 hours, he has forced important elements of the Republican party to break from his orbit.

Mr Trump will no doubt continue to find support in his base and the congressional Republicans who have staked their careers on him, but Trumpism has now lost the mainstream legitimacy afforded to it by the Republican elites.

Without high-profile Republicans enabling him after he vacates the White House, Mr Trump will be forced back to the fringe of American politics for the time being - particularly since social media giants have taken the unprecedented steps of silencing him indefinitely.

However, the restless and destructive energy of his supporters will not evaporate; and it remains to be seen whether that energy will be redirected to wrestling control of the Republican party, or be dissipated without the backing of either branch of government.

  • The writer is a recent postgraduate from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

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