Supporters of US President Donald Trump enter the US Capitol's Rotunda on 6 January 2021, in Washington, DC. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Artillery Row

The MAGA mob

Was it worth it?

Even before the Capitol Hill riot, in which four people died and more were injured, Wednesday had already been a bad day for Donald Trump. It started with the results from a Georgia run-off election in which two Republican seats became two Democratic seats and the GOP lost control of the Senate and gave Joe Biden unified government. It then became clear that Mike Pence would not use his role presiding over the Congressional certification of the electoral college results to aid the President’s unconstitutional, undemocratic and outrageous attempt to overrule the votes of the American people. Furious, Trump then spoke to his supporters at the “Save America” march on the Mall.

The most vocal anti-Trump conservatives look a lot less silly today

The President complained about “explosions of bullshit”. The crowd chanted “Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!” Then he said to his supporters, “Were going to walk down to the Capitol. And we’re gonna cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women. And we’re probably not going to be cheering, so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness, you have to show strength and you have to be strong.” You know what happened next.

To those who stormed and ransacked the Capitol, Trump said: “We love you. You’re very special.”

These things — the Georgia defeat, the incitement, the violence and desecration — are all part of the same story, of course: the story of what happens when the outgoing president of the United States deliberately misinforms millions of Americans and insists on absolute adherence to his insane fantasy, and all because he cannot stand the idea that he is a loser.

The last 24 hours don’t just mark the low denouement of the Trump presidency; they reframe the ways in which many on the right made peace with Trump and completely recast the debate about the future of the Republican Party.

The most vocal anti-Trump conservatives, ridiculed by many for their self-seriousness and old-timey insistence that character matters, look a lot less silly today. They warned that Trump’s personal failings were fatal to any political project that was built around him. They were right. The self-aware among those who took a less clear-cut approach to the President will recognise that they owe the resolute Never Trumpers an apology.

The Trumpian wing of the party is badly, if not fatally, wounded by recent events

When it comes to what happens next, the Trumpian wing of the party is badly, if not fatally, wounded by recent events. The argument that they would have been able to make had Trump better dealt with his election loss — the case for an underrated and unlucky president who would put together an encouraging coalition of voters and who might have triumphed had it not been for the pandemic — has been fatally undermined by his post-election lies and the violence he bears responsibility for. Until today, there were those who thought they could square the circle. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, for example, fancied their chances in 2024 if they could facilitate an airing of the electoral grievances on the Hill today without explicitly endorsing the idea that Trump won the election. The MAGA mob disproved that theory and made clear that there are two distinct camps: those who think Trump won in November, and those who think such a claim is an insane and dangerous lie.

Or to put it another way, Republicans will need to choose between two versions of what happened on 6 January 2021. It is hard to see how there can be a bridge between the official Trumpian version, in which brave patriots got a little carried away in their defence of democracy, and the truth.

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