What Happens Next

A month into the Biden-Harris administration, we’ve reached an inflection point: the conclusion of Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. While there were not enough Senate votes for conviction, public sentiment turned against Trump. The outcome has consequences for Biden-Harris, Trump, and the 2022 election.

The latest ABC News/Ipsos Poll (https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/abcnews-impeachment-poll ) indicated that 58 percent of respondents felt Trump should have been convicted at the trial (84 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of Independents, and 14 percent of Republicans.)  57 Senators voted for conviction, including 7 Republicans.  After the trial, Republican Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell said: “Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty… There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day.  The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their President.  And their having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole which the defeated President kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.”

Going forward, what can we expect?

The Biden-Harris Administration wisely got out of the way of Trump’s impeachment proceedings.  They should continue to do this and get on with their “to do” list: dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic, stabilizing the economy, insuring that all Americans have the right to vote, protecting the environment, rebuilding U.S. infrastructure and on and on.

President Biden’s (implicit) attitude should be “the previous President screwed up everything and I’ve got to work full-time to right the good ship America.”  That is to say, the Biden-Harris Administration shouldn’t mount an additional effort to go after Trump.  Nonetheless, the Federal Attorney for the District of Columbia has mounted an effort to identify and charge leaders of the January 6th insurrection; if he — Michael Sherwin or his successor — finds sufficient evidence to charge Trump, then he should do this.

Donald Trump has lost momentum.  Trump lost the 2020 presidential election by 7 million votes (in the election, 37 percent of voters identified as Democrats, 36 percent as Republicans, and 26 percent as Independent; Biden got 94 percent of Democratic votes, 6 percent of Republican votes, and 54 percent of Independent votes.)  Since then, Trump hasn’t done anything positive to increase his base of support.  As he left office, Trump’s approval rating was at 29 percent (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/01/20/how-we-know-the-drop-in-trumps-approval-rating-in-january-reflected-a-real-shift-in-public-opinion/ ).  A recent poll indicated that 26 percent of Republicans want Trump to get out of politics (https://www.newsweek.com/majority-americans-want-trump-completely-removed-politics-poll-finds-1569156).

Like a wounded bear, Trump has retreated to his cave — Mar-a-Lago.  A charismatic leader in hiding.

The 2022 election:  Most Republicans believe Trump will emerge from his Florida cave and be a factor in the 2022 midterm election.  Nonetheless, it’s unlikely Donald will ever again have the power he had when he occupied the White House.  Over time his influence will diminish.

1.Trump needs media attention.  At the moment, he doesn’t have it and is unlikely to get it soon.  From the moment Trump announced his presidential candidacy — June 16, 2015 — he got slavish media attention; that lasted for five and a half years.  In the White House, Trump had press briefings — stopping on November 3, 2020 — and daily Twitter bursts — stopping on January 8, 2021.  (It appears that Donald has been permanently banned from Twitter.)

Over the next few months, Trump’s lack of media attention will erode his base support.

2. Trump has no base outside the Republican Party.  (Where roughly 70 percent support him.)  The 2020 election proved a candidate cannot win a national race without garnishing support outside his Party.

Trump’s reduced base is a long-term impediment to his dream of regaining power.  And a problem for the Republican Party in general.

3. At the moment, Trump is the Republican “kingmaker.” For most political contests, Donald can determine who the Republican candidate will be.  If a 2022 GOP candidate is deemed to not be sufficiently “Trumpian,” Trump can decree that that candidate be primaried.  For example, Alaska Republican Senator Murkowski voted for Trump’s conviction on February 12th.  She’s running for reelection in 2022.  In the Alaska Republican primary, Trump will support someone to run against her.

Nonetheless, in most states, Trump’s kingmaker influence will have limited utility.  In a few overwhelmingly Republican state, such as Alabama, Trump’s anointed candidate will win the general election.  In the most competitive states, Trump’s imprimatur won’t be the determining factor.  For example, in 2022, Republican Senate seats are up in North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  In these states Trump can determine who the Republican candidate will be, but that candidate will not be able to win unless they attract Independent votes.  “Trumpism,” alone, won’t help these candidates win.

4. Unless you are a Trump devotee, “Trumpism” is associated with failure.  Donald Trump is stained by his inability to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic and his traitorous leadership of the January 6th insurrection.  For the electorate, in general, being Trump’s anointed candidate is not a good thing.  That suggests that to the extent 2022 Republican candidates are Trump acolytes, the GOP is heading for defeat.

5. In 2022, being Trump’s anointed candidate won’t guarantee you a surge of GOP votes.  In 2020, Republicans got an unexpectedly large turnout — 74 million votes (the largest for a losing presidential candidate).  For this reason, Republicans expect to have a similar surge in 2022. That’s overly optimistic.  The surprising 2020 GOP turnout was due to Trump’s presence on the ballot.  He won’t be on the ballot in 2022 and many Trump loyalists won’t turn out.

Furthermore, in 2020 the traditional Democratic ground game was neutered because of the pandemic.  That won’t be the case in 2022.

6. Going forward, Trump will not be an effective leader of the Republican Party because he is too self absorbed.  Trump has only effectively campaigned for himself; he has no track record of directly helping other Republicans.  He wasn’t effective in 2018; Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives.  In 2020, Trump wasn’t effective in Georgia’s January 4th special Senate elections.

7. Trump doesn’t stand for anything.  “Make America great again” has morphed into “Make Donald Trump great again.”  In 2022, that’s not going to help most Republican candidates.

In 2016, Trump had a limited policy agenda: immigration (“build the wall”), clean up Washington (“drain the swamp”), and (amazingly) bring competence to the White House (“I’m a successful CEO”).  In 2021, Trump has no policy agenda; he has grievances: “the election was stolen;” “the deep state conspired against me;” “Mitch McConnell betrayed me,” etcetera.  Therefore, in 2022, when Trump supports a Republican candidate, he will support them on the basis of their support for Donald Trump not their positions on particular issues.  That’s not a winning combination.

Summary:  Donald Trump has been diminished.  Nonetheless, he continues to be a power within the Republican Party.  That’s a problem for Republicans, not for Democrats.