Just a few weeks ago, President Trump had lost the presidential election — whether he admitted it or not — but it still looked as if he had pulled off a remarkable feat: His take-no-prisoners, reality-bending style as the Republican Party’s leader had been at least somewhat vindicated by the results on Nov. 3.
With him at the top of the ticket, Republican turnout had surged, allowing G.O.P. candidates down the ballot to avoid the major losses that many had predicted. The Trump campaign’s strategy of driving up turnout among working-class white voters, including many who hadn’t voted in past elections, seemed to have paid off — at least enough to light a path forward for the Republican Party.
The events of this week have turned all that sideways. The Senate has now flipped Democratic, after Georgia’s Republican senators lost runoff elections marred by Trump’s squabbles with the state’s Republican leaders.
And then on Wednesday, in what will go down as a dark day in the country’s history, Trump directed a flock of his supporters to march on the Capitol and “show strength.” Hundreds stormed the building and ransacked the Senate chamber, in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent Congress from ratifying Joe Biden’s legitimate election victory.
The chaos left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer whose passing was announced late last night, as the nation looked on aghast. All of a sudden, Trump’s grip on the party appeared to be loosening. So where does that leave Republican leaders?
In a word, uncomfortable. Shaken by Wednesday’s violence — and well aware of how damaging the rampage could be to the party’s reputation among more moderate voters — a number of Republicans in Congress backed off their support for Trump’s challenge to the election results.
But nearly 150 G.O.P. lawmakers, including more than 100 in the House, did end up registering their objection to the Electoral College results, setting an extraordinary precedent.
The reality is that Trump remains the most popular and influential public figure among Republican voters.
Polls since November have consistently shown that most Republicans say they believe the president’s falsehoods about widespread election fraud — reflecting not only his personal influence, but also the willingness of his supporters to choose Trump-friendly narratives over faith in civic institutions. (Read Jeremy W. Peters’s short essay below, on how conservative pundits are already reframing Wednesday’s events to absolve Trump of blame.)
Further complicating things is the fact that Biden has aggressively courted moderate Americans, including the kinds of suburbanites and center-right voters that the Republican Party had heavily relied upon just a decade ago.
Many Republican officials now recognize that without the support of anti-institutional, white, working-class voters — who remain broadly loyal to Trump — they would be left without any base at all.
Still, G.O.P. leaders are feeling the heat. After Wednesday’s melee, some prominent members of Trump’s administration resigned, including Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, and Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary and the wife of Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader.
The resignations were essentially symbolic, since the administration will be around for only another 12 days, and they mostly felt like an attempt by those officials to wipe their hands clean and walk away after steadily standing at the president’s side for the past four years.
Some observers have called upon members of Trump’s cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to strip him of his powers, and at least one House Republican said yesterday that he would back such a move.
John Kelly, Trump’s estranged former chief of staff, said on CNN yesterday that if he were still in the cabinet, he would support using the 25th Amendment to oust Trump.
Vice President Mike Pence, however, would oppose such an action, a person in his inner circle told Maggie Haberman. According to the text of the amendment, Pence and a majority of the cabinet would need to agree in order to remove Trump from power before Jan. 20.
Teleprompter Trump is back. Heeding the outrage of the G.O.P.’s top brass, the president released a brief video address last night in which he read somberly from prepared remarks, belatedly committing himself to a peaceful transfer of power.
Barely over 24 hours after he released a video expressing “love” for his supporters at the Capitol and calling them “very special people,” Trump declared himself “outraged by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem.”
Contrary to reports that he had resisted sending in additional forces to take back the Capitol, Trump claimed that he had “immediately deployed the National Guard and federal law enforcement to secure the building.”
By now, this cycle of binge and bust has become familiar: First, Trump breaks a norm of American governance. Then he stays mum while outrage ensues, seemingly basking in the confusion he has unleashed. Finally, after 24 hours or so, he offers a staid and well-rehearsed statement of compunction.
The next step in the process usually involves Trump hopping back onto social media and picking up where he left off, lobbing bombs at his opponents and complaining about “unfair” treatment. But he may not have quite the same opportunity to do that this time.
Facebook said yesterday that it would block Trump from using its platforms at least until he leaves office. Twitter had locked Trump out for nearly 24 hours, after he released his video on Wednesday praising supporters, although his access was later restored.
With just a dozen days left until Biden’s inauguration, it appears Trump is finally allowing official transition business to take place.
He issued a letter yesterday to his ambassadors and other political appointees, instructing them to step down — a move that a typical departing president would have undertaken weeks ago.
The chief of the U.S. Capitol Police, Steven Sund, said yesterday that he would resign next week. A wide array of critics, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, had raised questions about why his officers weren’t better prepared for the attack on the Capitol.
Many also pointed out that officers had appeared to stand aside while rioters ransacked the building, and they questioned why so many of the intruders had not been arrested.