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Trump Will Never Go Away Until He's Dead-- Which Can't Come Too Soon



This morning, Adam Schiff, my own congressman, told me that "QAnon supporters were among the most visible participants during the deadly January 6th insurrection, and, alongside the ex-President, they continue to sow doubt about the validity of our free and fair election. The recent FBI-DHS report assessing that QAnon adherents could resort to further real-world violence is a sober warning about the long-term danger posed by twisted conspiracy theories that are completely detached from reality. It is unconscionable that Republicans in Congress continue to prevent a nonpartisan commission from investigating the root causes of the insurrection-- especially after hearing the warnings from the FBI and DHS that QAnon adherents could inflict further violence. Still, with or without Republican support, we will thoroughly investigate what transpired on January 6th, including further questioning the role QAnon played in spurring on the violence. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will continue to focus its attention on the threat of domestic terrorism, to include the role violent ideologies such as QAnon play in radicalizing individuals to commit acts of violence, and whether malign foreign actors are exploiting the online spaces-- where fringe conspiracy theories often take hold-- to further pollute our discourse. Left unchecked, the consequences could be even more deadly and devastating to our society."


"As extraordinary new revelations of Donald Trump’s corruption continue to pour forth," wrote Greg Sargent in his Washington Post column this morning, "an intriguing tension has developed around the former president’s role in Republican politics. On the one hand, it’s becoming clearer that as we learn more, those revelations will only get worse. Sargent noted that Trump is now "a cancerous tumor that neither party is willing to excise."


Trump's " gravitational pull on GOP primaries" is too overwhelming for McConnell to move against him-- as much as he'd love to-- and his "legacy is shaping the candidates’ strategies at exactly the moment when he is growing more volatile and his legacy is becoming more unpredictable. Yet, this also imposes additional obligations on Democrats. They have both self-interested reasons for doubling-down on efforts to hold him accountable (casting light on continued GOP fealty to Trump could help electorally) and public-spirited ones (the public is entitled to the full truth about the Trump years, especially if he is to remain a large presence in our political life)."


"Shockingly," wrote Sargent-- though not necessarily so for everyone, McConnell "is now downplaying the news that Trump’s Justice Department sought the phone records of two leading Democratic foes, potentially in retaliation against them. McConnell is resisting any congressional investigation, laughably warning [McConnell being the foremost ringmaster] of a 'partisan circus.' In continuing to protect Trump, McConnell appears at least partly motivated by a desire to keep Trump from erupting at Republicans. Trump is emerging as an incredibly unstable force in Senate GOP primaries, whose outcome will shape whether Republicans capture the upper chamber."



Sargent linked a campaign ads (above), from Ohio extremist crackpot Josh Mandel, trying to degrade his opponents for not being Trumpist enough. "Obviously," wrote Sargent, "it’s not unusual for primary candidates to align themselves with a popular figure in their party, and Trump is far and away the most popular one in the GOP. What’s odd, however, is that this comes amid worsening revelations of Trump’s corruption. We just learned, for instance, that Trump went to extraordinary lengths to corrupt the Justice Department into helping him subvert the election. It’s likely that those revelations will get worse as Democrats keep investigating them. All this is compelling GOP leaders into an odd balancing act. As Josh Kraushaar reports, some Republicans worry that Trump’s volatility, his endorsement of extremist candidates and his prioritization of himself over the party is already harming their chances of winning the Senate. Yet Trump’s popularity with the GOP base also requires them to avoid triggering (as it were) his rage. So even as new revelations gush forth, GOP leaders must bend over backward to help him cover them up... Here’s the bottom line: Even as the Trump cancer continues to metastasize in our political life, neither of the two parties, each for its own reasons, is willing to do what it will truly take to excise it."


When Atlantic writer Peter Nicholas, researching today's column, Who Is Trump Reaching? called Steve Bannon last week to ask him about the influence Señor T still has over the GOP, Bannon replied that "The Republican Party is just a name. The bulk of it is a populist, nationalist party led by Donald Trump... The Republican Party, pre-2016, are the modern Whigs."


"Some of Trump’s fiercest Republican critics," wrote Nicholas "share [Bannon's] belief that the former president maintains a strong grip on his party. 'He sparked this [movement], and now others are going ahead and taking the baton of batshittery,' Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois and a staunch Trump critic, told me last week. Ahead of the midterm elections, the GOP seems to be casting about for an identity. If you open the National Republican Senatorial Committee website, you’ll see a slew of Trump-themed merch: an $18.75 T-shirt with a picture of Trump and a caption reading Still My President, a $4 decal with a picture of Trump: Miss Me Yet? But when you click around to other parts of the site, you’ll see a link to send Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska a campaign donation. 'Lisa has dedicated her life to public service,' the pitch reads. Murkowski voted to convict Trump in the Senate impeachment trial over his behavior during the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol; she’s the only one of the seven Republican senators who did so who is up for reelection next year. The former president has targeted her for defeat in the Alaska Senate primary and vowed to campaign against her. 'He’s going to do what he’s going to do,' Murkowski told me. 'I’m going to do what I’m going to do.'


One of the savviest political operatives I know told me his gut predicts a 30 seat Democratic loss in the House next year. I agreed that the DCCC couldn't fight its way out of a paper bag and that Sean Patrick Maloney is exactly as incompetent and moronic as Cheri Bustos was. But aren't the Republicans proving themselves even worse now? Just look, for example, at how they're destroying their chances in Florida's swingy-est district (FL-13). The Democrats-- despite their own incompetence-- could be the beneficiaries of GOP insanity gone wild. I'm sure Maloney will take credit for the win-- even if it was a default win that could be much bigger if he went into outer space with Jeff Bezos and stayed there.


After losing badly in 2020, the GOP wants candidates who can win in 2022. But the party’s biggest star seems less concerned with fellow Republicans’ electability than with their fealty. Trump aims to punish incumbents who voted for his impeachment and reward those who support the culture war he’s stoked. Republicans want to talk about Joe Biden’s liberal leanings and how inflation is making life more expensive for most Americans. Trump wants to talk about himself and his personal woes.
On Capitol Hill last week, I asked Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine what she thought about Trump’s ability to sway votes in the midterm elections next year. Smiling, Collins noted that the winner of the New Jersey Republican gubernatorial primary last week was the least Trumpy of the candidates: Jack Ciattarelli, who once said Trump was "out of step with the party of Lincoln."
"I think we’ve seen in the New Jersey Republican primary that his involvement does not necessarily produce the result that he would like to see, because the moderate candidate won," Collins told me. "Which I was glad to see."
Politicians need attention in order to be relevant. In Trump’s case, relevance gets him attention. Republican operatives-- and elected officials like Collins-- are looking for hints that Trump’s base is starting to erode, even as it remains largely intact. Republican leaders still seem deferential to him, as evidenced by their repeated pilgrimages to Mar-a-Lago and refusal to create a commission that would probe the storming of the Capitol. A Reuters-Ipsos survey last month showed that 53 percent of Republicans consider Trump to be the “true president,” with 61 percent believing the lie that the 2020 election was “stolen.” Neil Newhouse, a longtime Republican pollster, recently conducted a focus group for clues as to the sort of gubernatorial candidate GOP voters might prefer. “Eight out of 10 want a person like Trump-- though maybe not tweeting as much,” Newhouse told me. “Based on the data we’ve seen, there is really no evidence that his influence is diminishing within the party. Right now, it’s still Trump’s Republican Party.”
Reaching his loyalists gets trickier every day. One by one, the platforms Trump used to command attention are disappearing. He’s banned from Facebook for at least two years and from Twitter indefinitely. Even Fox News chose not to air the first post-presidential speech he delivered, on June 5 at a Republican convention in North Carolina. “I watched it on C-SPAN,” Jeff Greenfield, a longtime network and cable-news journalist, told me. “You might have thought that Fox would have thrown that speech on, because they’ve been worried about whether their audience feels they’re sufficiently loyal [to Trump].”
In early June, Trump abandoned the little-read blog that had become a personal embarrassment, making his go-to means of communication a primitive tool from the pre-internet age: the press release. “We do press releases now because we were banned from Twitter, and Instagram, and Facebook, and others,” Trump said at an outdoor rally in Wisconsin, where he appeared by satellite. “They want to silence us.”
If Trump helps Republicans reclaim the House in 2022, we’ll see even more speculation about his next act. One outlandish scenario floated in recent weeks is Trump becoming speaker of the House. He wouldn’t need to win a Florida congressional seat to get the job; a majority of House members could simply vote to make him leader. The possibility sounds like fan fiction, though Trump hasn’t ruled it out, telling conservative-radio talk-show host Wayne Allyn Root on June 4 that he finds the idea “so interesting.” One person close to Trump told me, “If 150 members of Congress went to Trump and said, ‘We want you to be our leader,’ I think he’d do it.”
But even if Republicans capture the House and Trump agrees to take the role, there is no guarantee he’d win a leadership vote. Every Democrat would vote against him, as would a few anti-Trump Republicans. “Look, I would laugh it off-- except this guy just may want to do that,” Kinzinger said. “Right now, he’s a loser, and this is an opportunity for him not to be a loser.” That said, “If Republicans win a significant majority, there is no way in hell I would vote for Donald Trump for speaker. So you have to take into account members like me.”
Nor is it a lock that Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, would willingly step aside for Trump to sweep in and take a job for which the Californian has spent years auditioning. Bannon unspooled a wild chain of events to me, to explain away that hurdle: Trump would serve only 100 days, setting in motion the Republican policy agenda and starting a series of investigations, including an impeachment inquiry into Biden. Then, Trump would step down, turn the gavel over to McCarthy, and prepare for a 2024 presidential run. “He’d come in for 100 days and get a team together,” Bannon said. “They’d have a plan. That plan would be to confront the Biden administration across the board. I actually believe that there will be overwhelming evidence at that time to impeach Biden, just as they did Trump. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
“On the 101st day,” Bannon added, “he’ll announce his candidacy for the presidency, and we’ll be off to the races.”
But serving as House speaker would be a lot of work for a former president who always showed more interest in the ceremonial aspects of his job than in the daily grind. Which raises another question: Would Trump actually run again for president in 2024? He faces a tangle of legal investigations involving his company’s business practices. He turned 75 on Monday and might not be up for the brutal demands that a presidential campaign imposes. “It’s difficult enough to anticipate a political environment four months from now, much less four years from now,” Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, told me.
... For the nation’s news outlets, Trump poses a dilemma. He’s an irresistible draw and without him, cable-TV ratings and online readership are sinking across the board. As Trump climbed to the top of the Republican field in the 2016 race, Leslie Moonves, the former executive chairman of CBS, succinctly described the bargain in covering the onetime reality-TV star: “The money’s rolling in and this is fun … Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say, but bring it on, Donald. Keep going.” At what point might news executives who have no wish to give oxygen to an antidemocratic, one-term president compromise their values in pursuit of revenue? “There’s a fascination with the bizarre,” Greenfield noted.
For now, Trump is making do with what limited exposure he commands. On June 12, while Biden met with G7 leaders in a seaside resort town in the United Kingdom, Trump appeared on a jumbotron at the Wisconsin rally, hosted by Mike Lindell, better known as the MyPillow guy. The “real president,” as Lindell introduced him, recited familiar grievances about the “rigged” election while touting his record. Thousands of miles away, the actual president plotted ways to end the coronavirus pandemic and to confront an ascendant China. The 46th president was making news; the 45th, creating a spectacle that all but his die-hard fans seemed to ignore. Come December, he and the former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly are going on tour together, starting with an appearance in a Sunrise, Florida, hockey arena. Tickets are selling for $100 apiece. “These conversations with the 45th president will not be boring,” O’Reilly promised in a press release. I was struck by his need to assure us.