Robert Ford
Robert Ford is a former US ambassador to Syria and Algeria and a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute for Near East Policy in Washington

End of Trump but not Trumpism

Here in America, we are following the investigation by the American congress into the attack on the Capitol building in Washington on January 6, 2021 when an armed mob tried to block the certification of Joseph Biden’s election victory. After the first two weeks of hearings, the purpose of the investigation is clear: the investigation committee members, both Democrats and two Republicans, aim to destroy Donald Trump politically even if they cannot destroy Trumpism as a political movement.

In its hearings on television, the investigation confirmed three key facts from acknowledgements by Trump’s family and close advisors. First, White House lawyers and then Attorney General (Justice Minister) William Barr warned Trump that blocking the vote certification in states and in the Congress is illegal. Second, President Trump and his lawyers ignored the law and made one last attempt to stop the certification by pressuring Vice President Pence to stop the certification session in Congress on January 6. Finally, we learned that when Vice President Pence decided to obey the law, Trump called Pence a coward and encouraged an armed mob to attack the Capitol building. Trump refused to order the Pentagon or the Department of Homeland Security to send forces to stop the attack on the Capitol. And all this information came from Republican political figures, not Democratic Party critics of Trump.

The political impact was big and maybe the legal impact also. Only the American Department of Justice, not Congress, can raise a legal case against Donald Trump in a courtroom. So far, the head of the Justice Department, Attorney General Merrick Garland, has abstained from saying if his department will bring charges against Trump, but investigators from the Department asked for the files from the Congress committee, and those files should start arriving this week. It is worth noting that a federal judge in California looked at much of the evidence from the Congress investigating committee last March and ordered Trump’s lawyer in the White House to share his emails with the committee because the evidence in March already indicated Trump probably did commit the crime of trying “to block the work of Congress” and also conspired to “commit acts of fraud against the United States” in the words of that judge.

I do not mean that Trump is sure to face conviction if there is a trial. The Justice Department would have to prove Trump knew his actions were illegal and he will deny that he understood the legal issues. Trump’s personal effort to convince election officials in Georgia to change the vote count in that vital state will make his winning more difficult. In any case if there is a trial it will be a huge media event. Trump would be the first American president ever to face a trial. Probably the one quarter of Americans who totally love him will never criticize him. That quarter is not enough to win the 2024 presidential election, however. The Republicans have to win the votes of independents and unhappy Democratic Party voters.

Candidate Trump, especially if he is on trial, will not convince independent voters to support him. Even if Trump escapes a trial, television broadcasts of the Congress committee watched by millions of Americans during the past two weeks have hurt Trump’s credibility. Republican Party activists understand this very well. Notably a May 2022 public opinion survey by NBC News showed that 58 percent of Republican voters think the Republican Party is more important than Trump himself; only 39 percent of Republican voters want Trump to run in 2024. Such opinion polls will convince other Republican Party candidates to challenge Trump in the 2024 election. In particular, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is preparing a campaign and he has a large political base without Trump’s legal and credibility problems.

Trump’s influence is diminishing but Trumpism is still very powerful. At the conference of the Texas Republican Party last weekend, party militants harassed conservative Congressman Dan Crenshaw who is a hero from the war in Afghanistan. These militants accused Crenshaw of supporting globalism instead of promoting America-first policies.

At the conference the Texas Republicans called President Biden illegitimate and demanded the abolition of the American Federal Reserve Bank and income taxes. The Trumpist agenda doubts the utility of international trade and intervention in foreign wars. It promotes Christianity and pledges to fight leftists in America’s ongoing culture war. And it doubts institutions. In this season of primary elections across America, several successful candidates for governor and senator in important states still insist the 2020 presidential election was corrupted. The political indicators here predict a Republican Party tsunami in November 2022 elections, and many of these candidates will win and strengthen the Trumpist influence in American politics.