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Trump's Georgia rally contrasts with White House stimulus push. Which legacy will win out?

The president seems more interested in licking his wounds than concerning himself with the future of the GOP. But those around him aren’t so self-absorbed.
President Donald Trump arrives for a "Keep America Great" rally at Sudduth Coliseum at the Lake Charles Civic Center in Lake Charles, Louisiana on Oct. 11, 2019.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file

Donald Trump’s ascension to lead the Republican Party began as a hostile takeover. It is now ending as a hostage crisis.

“This election was rigged,” the president insisted amid a 46-minute diatribe delivered from the White House. “Everybody knows it.”

It was not. There is no evidence to the contrary. And as even Republican-led states continue to certify the votes that will deliver the presidency to President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20, 2021, the true believers in Trump’s orbit are reduced to endorsing daffy conspiracy theories to justify their claims.

Donald Trump’s ascension to lead the Republican Party began as a hostile takeover. It is now ending as a hostage crisis.

A vast plot involving foreign communists, turncoat Republicans, George Soros, Black Lives Matter, Antifa, the Clinton Foundation, and half a dozen other nefarious specters that haunt the fevered nationalist mind is afoot. Republicans who are still beholden to the movement that clings to Trump’s coattails are enabling this facially bankrupt and insulting nonsense. And yet, political necessities do sometimes compel them to acknowledge reality.

Terrified as they are by the shadows that dance across the wall and afraid to test the newfound liberation delivered by America’s voters, the GOP is starting to comment on a possible Trump 2024 campaign. Some prominent Republicans told Politico reporters they were enthusiastic about the idea, while others were more reluctant to stake out a position. Regardless, contemplating the prospect implicitly admits the president’s defeat. And although he is loathe to admit it, Trump’s own behaviors betray his failure at the polls and the shift in his focus toward maintaining control over a party he no longer titularly leads.

Until now, Trump has exerted control over skeptics of his movement within the Republican Party through fear. Cross him, and he’ll come after you — your fundraising, your base voters, your reputation on Fox News and on AM radio. And it worked, in part, because Trump’s appeal to the Republican primary electorate remains largely unchanged from 2016. Four years ago, the reality TV star-turned-candidate argued that a vast array of unseen (yet omnipresent) forces were coming for regular Americans. “Globalist” free traders, Republican quislings, and half a dozen other interests that are at once hyper-competent manipulators of events and yet also reliably bumbling failures were eroding opportunities for the common man (and woman). Trump seems inclined to flog that same message all the way into 2024 — only now, he has been robbed of that which was his due, too.

But the president cannot predicate his return to national politics on grievance alone. Trump 2016 was a hypothetical onto which voters could, and very often did, project their fondest aspirations. Trump 2024 has a concrete record to run on — or, perhaps, run from. While Trump may not be one for long-term strategizing, the people around him certainly are.


Trump has spent the days since the election wallowing in self-pity. For weeks, he ceased to function as a constitutional officer and instead existed as an astrophysical jet projecting paranoia across the political spectrum. But this week, the White House sputtered back to life with a renewed focus on a nagging priority that cannot wait for Biden to take the oath of office: economic relief to mitigate the pandemic’s terrible second-order effects.

On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., reengaged on the subject of Covid-19 relief for the first time since October. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted on Wednesday that economic assistance was “the current active policy priority” for the White House.

The president, however, has not indicated as much — indeed, what Trump would or would not sign remains a mystery even to Republican negotiators. But, as Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., told NBC News reporter Sahil Kapur, the devil isn’t in the details. “In terms of a coronavirus bill,” he said, “I don’t think the White House is playing as large of a role as it did before the election.” But even if Trump isn’t particularly interested in providing for relief for individuals and businesses struggling amid a new virus surge — and a renewed wave of lockdowns — Republicans who can see beyond the next five weeks certainly are.

Similarly, Republicans are starting to allow themselves outward expressions of concern that Trump and his more reckless allies are fomenting a civil war in Georgia that could cost them control of the U.S. Senate.

Among a more excitable (and hopelessly credulous) sort, Trump’s “rightful” victory at the polls in Georgia was stolen — and it was Republicans wot done it. At a “Stop the Steal” event in Georgia, former Trump election attorney Sidney Powell and local pro-Trump lawyer Lin Wood advised voters to punish the GOP in the January 5 runoff elections that will determine control of the upper chamber of Congress. "Why would you go back and vote in another rigged election for God's sake?” Wood asked. “If Kelly Loeffler wants your vote. If David Perdue wants your vote, they've got to earn it. They have not earned your vote. Do not give it to them.”

Trump loyalists who also concern themselves with the health of the Republican Party are having none of it. “Lin Wood and Sidney Powell are totally destructive,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich averred. “Every Georgia conservative who cares about America MUST vote in the runoff. Their don’t vote strategy will cripple America.” The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., seems to agree. He, too, urged Peach State Republicans to vote the party line, and advisors close to the president’s son are launching a super PAC to mobilize the state’s GOP.

The president seems to want to have it both ways. Trump travelled to Georgia on Saturday for a rally to support both Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, but he has also heaped scorn on Gov. Brian Kemp and insisted that he should “call off the election.” Georgia Republicans who spoke with Politico fear the president’s endorsements will be overshadowed if “all he does is whine and complain and talk bad about Kemp,” as they should be.

Right now, from a Republican perspective, Trump’s electoral legacy is a mixed bag. Rural GOP candidates benefited from the president’s capacity to turn out the vote in 2020, while suburban and exurban Republicans managed to avoid being dragged down with the unpopular president. If the Senate holds, Republicans will have managed to defy expectations on nearly every electoral level — beating predictions to expand their reach on the state legislative level, in the U.S. House, and in the Senate. That perception would be dashed if Republicans manage to lose both U.S. Senate seats, handing Democrats unified control of the federal government.

If this happens, the following four years would be typified not by gridlock but by Democratic legislative victories and parliamentary maneuvers designed to sap the minority party of whatever leverage it currently has. The president’s image-makers will do their best to blame that condition on any and every implausible circumstance, but the obvious truth of the matter will be hard to avoid: In four years in office, Trump did to the GOP what it took Barack Obama eight years to do to Democrats. That’s a weakness Trump’s prospective Republican successors will exploit — and he will have aspiring successors.

The president himself seems more interested in licking his wounds than concerning himself with the state of the GOP. But those around him aren’t so self-absorbed, and they seem to be doing what they can to make the final days of the Trump era as painless for the Republican Party as possible. Trump might believe his legacy is secure, and grievance alone will resurrect his political fortunes. If that belief is widely shared by Trump’s fellow Republicans, they’re sure not acting like it.