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A reckless departure

Trump’s future will depend a lot on the attitude of the conservative news media

A reckless departure

Fallout: Of more immediate worry for Trump will be the cancellation of lucrative commercial contracts for his core businesses. Reuters

KP Nayar

Strategic Analyst

Of the thousands of jokes, derogatory graphic depictions and cartoons that have flooded social media platforms about the January 6 invasion of Capitol Hill encouraged by outgoing President Donald Trump, one stands out because of the poignancy of its political truism. It shows a petrified Ivanka Trump, the President’s daughter, asking her father: “Dad, are we going to jail?” The father replies nonchalantly that Ivanka and her brothers are, indeed, going to jail, but “I am going to Russia.”

The next strip shows Trump putting through a call to Russian President Putin: “Can I come over brother?” But Putin’s friendly demeanour towards Trump is gone. Rudely, the Russian tells him to call North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and ask for asylum. But Trump does not find any comfort in Pyongyang either. Kim was gifted favourable international exposure and conferred a degree of respectability by Trump. But politicians in a rat race often kick aside the ladder they used, once they have scaled new heights. The North Korean dictator tells the American to try Xi Jinping instead. And the cartoon strips continue with every leader turning his back on Trump.

Even before the events of January 6, Trump’s longevity in US politics, once his presidency ended in graceless defeat, was highly exaggerated. Not just by his supporters, but equally by his detractors, especially in the media, who pushed such a line so that old-style Republican politicians would do their best to rid their party of any vestiges of Trumpism.

Traditional Republicans like Mitch McConnell, the party’s leader in the Senate, or Mitt Romney, one-time Governor and former Republican presidential candidate who is now a Senator from Utah, never liked Trump. They saw him as an interloper who succeeded in capturing their party. McConnell put up with Trump for four years, cynics say, partly to make life easier for his wife, Elaine Chao, whom Trump appointed to his cabinet as Transportation Secretary. Other prominent Republicans, like Romney and Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, did not hide their disdain for trespasser Trump.

In the aftermath of the Capitol breach, much attention has been focused on resignations by members of Trump’s cabinet and top White House officials. But clues to the future of Trumpism lie in desertions by staffers in the offices of Senators who challenged Biden’s victory on the congressional floor.

Chad Sweet was Chairman of Senator Ted Cruz’s unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign. As Cruz prepared to launch another presidential bid in 2024 and hoped for Trump’s endorsement, Sweet was a sure shot as Chair of his campaign once again. He had much to lose when he, in his own words “made it clear to Senator Cruz – whom I have known for years – before the joint session of the Congress, that if he proceeded to object to the electoral count of the legitimate slates of delegates certified by the states, I could no longer support him.”

Cruz’s Communications Director, Lauren Blair Bianchi, also quit, protesting that the Senator from Texas was repeating on the Senate floor, Trump’s fiction that the election was stolen from the President. In his resignation letter, Jason Schmid, who worked for Congressman Mike Rogers of Alabama, called his boss a “Congressional enabler of the mob.” These are not well off Americans unlike cabinet members or top White House aides. They were throwing away secure jobs for the sake of their principles at a time when it will not be easy for them to find alternative work on Capitol Hill, where both chambers of Congress have flipped to Democrats. That such people are abandoning Trump only shows that the ground is being cut from under Trump’s feet even before he has left the White House.

Trump’s future will depend a lot on the attitude of the ideology-driven conservative news media, which provided oxygen for presidential falsehoods in the last four years. But for those sections of the media to sustain the wildest conspiracy theories that Trump’s followers are now used to, Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris have to generate scandals which the conservatives can trumpet: items similar to the allegedly questionable business dealings of Biden’s sons, Hunter and James, on which Fox News thrived.

Bill Clinton’s first year in the White House produced enough scandals for his detractors to feed on, but that was because Clinton and First Lady Hillary came from Arkansas as outsiders to Washington. They were unfamiliar with the snake pits that surround the White House. Biden is a consummate insider in the national capital and he knows how to evade those dangers. That considerably reduces the potential of Fox News and similar media to offer sustenance to Trump in future.

Of more immediate worry for Trump will be the cancellation of lucrative commercial contracts for his core businesses. The Professional Golfers’ Association of America has just announced that it will no longer hold its major tournament at a Trump Organization course in New Jersey. Embassies in Washington will no more line up to book the ballroom of the lavish Trump hotel, not far from the White House, for their national day receptions. The Indian embassy was a rare exception in its dignified refusal to do institutional business with this hotel despite entreaties from the Trump Organization.

Trump was once sought after by high society from Manhattan to Palm Beach and from Atlantic City to Hollywood. Now, as he prepares to live his post-presidential life in his Florida resort of Mar-a-Lago, his neighbours have invoked an agreement he signed in the 1990s with the town that renounced his right to permanently live on the property when it was converted into a club. The town may well ask him to leave if his neighbours pursue their objections by recourse to law. If his neighbours are ostracising Trump, how much longer will Republicans let him lead their party? The fringe and the rednecks may remain with him though, for some more time.

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