There is no question that the Democrats are going overboard on the staged theatrics surrounding the horrific events of January 6th. This is a clear attempt by the Party to revive their electoral prospects this autumn, but they may well end up undermining the only man who can save them: Donald Trump.
The hearings already face diminished ratings. After the first day, audience figures fell by 50% and seem unlikely to persuade most fair-minded people that January 6th was anything like the ‘insurrection’ it’s painted as. What emerges instead is a confirmation of mass stupidity by addled MAGA activists set in motion by a cheerleading Chief Executive.
Trump certainly bears his share of the blame for January 6th but not as an organiser of a coordinated rebellion in the historic sense. A coup? Without guns and no military or police support? Mussolini, he is not. January 6th lacked the focus and planning of the March on Rome and there’s certainly nothing of the organised violence that facilitated the Nazi rise to power. Instead, Trump comes off as a hopeless narcissist unwilling to accept his loss even when presented with the facts by his most reliable advisors.
What is catching up with Trump is not his fascist leanings but his pathetic character as an overaged Baby Huey. Progressives and Democrats revel in the idea that the GOP is now a tool of Trump as the unassailable il duce. But in reality, the ex-President is not getting stronger, but weaker. His poll numbers, even among Republicans, have weakened, as more members claim to identify with their party rather than its titular leader. Trump does not retain the respect and loyalty that Ronald Reagan, for example, maintained among a broad part of the party.
Trump’s paranoid, personal style — so evident in the hearings — is no longer unchallenged inside the party. This year his record of endorsements, particularly in hotly contested races, is mediocre. His loss in Georgia, against state officials he desperately wished to topple, was particularly revealing. Last week in South Carolina, he was only partially successful in his drive to expel “disloyal” house members. There are even signs that he may have lost the support of the Murdoch empire.
This is not to say that Trump might not win the GOP nomination, which would be a disaster for the party and country. Even though Trump still leads the field, it’s likely much of the party would favour figures like former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida’s Ron DeSantis or South Carolina’s Tim Scott or Nicky Haley. For many, a Trumpista policy agenda without the diversions of Trumpian insanity may prove appealing.
But we may be forced to accept this choice. If as in 2016 the opposition to him is divided, Trump can skate to victory with 30% of the Republican primary vote. This would give the Democrats a rallying point that they will sorely need, particularly if their likely candidate is an ever more debilitated Joe Biden or the remarkably unappealing Kamala Harris. Indeed, even amid the awful performance of this Administration, Trump polls about even with the likely Democratic candidate.
The hope here is that sentient elements in the Republican Party can stop Trump from ruining what could be a historic opportunity to stop the more extreme progressive agenda. At the same time, the GOP can be recast as the voice of the middle and working class. In this, the Democrats may be helping by placing emphasis on Trump’s personal awfulness. If Trump’s image continues to fade, even to the point of caricature, the GOP may end up thanking Nancy Pelosi for saving their party from itself.
This piece first appeared at UnHerd.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.