On the same day that Trump was formally arrested in New York City, a liberal Democrat won the election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court and another beat his conservative, croporate oriented rival for mayor of Chicago. In New York itself, barely 100 MAGAists turned up to protest Trump’s first court appearance and Marjorie Taylor Greene was so drowned out by catcalls, whistles, cow bells and other noisemakers that not a word of her speech could be heard. And just a week earlier, Trump had held his first campaign rally, in Waco, Texas. Crowd size there was estimated to have been between two to ten thousand. Not very big at all.
So, is the MAGA movement fading? Was January 6 , 2021, a one-of-a-kind event?
Well, yes and no.
Trump boxed in
The Institute for Strategic Dialogue did an in depth report on the elements that are holding the most extreme of the MAGA crowd – those that organized and participated in January 6, for example. They write: “ISD analysts have not witnessed indicators that would suggest a mass mobilization of protests or violence is likely at this time. Rather, ISD analysts have noted the proliferation of familiar, and often discouraging, attitudes about such actions among pro-Trump online communities.” According to this study, there are three main “narratives” holding them back from a repeat of the January 6 attempt. These are:
- A fear of unfair surveillance and entrapment by the federal authorities.
This fear is reinforced by such figures as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Alex Jones (of “Infowars”).
- A perception that Trump “threw them under the bus” when he did not issue a blanket pardon for all January 6 rioters before leaving office.
- A view that law enforcement is out to get Trump supporters, who will have to bear the cost of their own legal defense if they are charged with a crime.
It also seems likely that a sense of how isolated they are from the general public is holding them in check. They must have noticed the 2022 election results in which almost all of the hard-core election deniers were defeated at the statewide level. Yesterday’s election results in Wisconsin and Chicago will have added to that view.
This places Trump and the Republicans as a whole in a bind. He is a drag on his party’s election chances. (And it is “his” party now.) But he cannot just totally abandon his hard core supporters. So, for example, he opened his Waco rally with music from the January 6 prison choir. Down at Mar-a-Lago after his arraignment hearing, Trump made his appearance following Donald Trump Jr. and his fiancee, Kimberly Guilfoyle; daughter Tiffany Trump and her husband; Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and his fiancee; Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.); and Eric Trump and wife Lara. Who was not there was his own wife, Melania. He gave his usual whining complaint speech, which will do nothing to win back the independent voters. But what else could he say?
The outrage Trump expressed stems from the fact that he’s been getting away with anything he’s wanted to do for many decades, so what right does anybody have to try to stop him now? In other words, entitlement. This personal outrage meshes perfectly with the entitlement that his supporters – largely white males – feel. They feel outrage that in recent decades their racist and male supremacist and homophobic behavior has been limited. This violates this same behavior which they conducted with impunity for centuries.
Trump vs. DeSantis
The MAGA movement was years in developing. It was a general sentiment looking for a hero, a cult leader. In one sense, Trump was that perfect cult leader. Showing flagrant disregard for facts, complete callousness, and willingness to bully anybody who seems less powerful, Trump appeals to all that is worst but also deeply rooted in US culture. He is also a brilliant entertainer/carnival barker for those who like that sort of thing.
Furthermore, Trump’s appeal has always been as a bully. The mere photo of him meekly sitting in court yesterday will weaken that appeal. So will the fact that he cannot control the narrative inside the court. There are more such photos and more court appearances coming.
But it is exactly these qualities that have turned off a wider layer of voters.
Can DeSantis replace him? Dozens of commentators have pointed out his weaknesses. He’s already made several blunders trying to steal Trump’s thunder: He backtracked on his support for Ukraine in the war there, which he called a “border dispute”. He then said he would not honor any attempt to extradite Trump from Florida, despite the fact that he is Constitutionally obligated to honor such an attempt if it had become necessary. Also, his hard core opposition to abortion rights was proven once again (in Wisconsin) to be an election loser. My mother used to define “chutzpa” as “the man who killed his mother and father for inheritance money and then pleaded for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan.” Trump has it. DeSantis doesn’t. Trump can bluster his way around any lie or contradiction. DeSantis can’t. Democrats must be licking their chops waiting for DeSantis, should he become the nominee.
There are still all sorts of destabilizing factors, though.
First are the other criminal charges that will likely be filed against Trump. These are the ones in Georgia for attempts to overturn the election and possible federal charges for both January 6 and Trump’s absconding with the classified documents. The latter would also include obstruction of justice, since Trump clearly was involved in trying to evade a subpoena to turn over all such documents. It’s hard to see how any one of these cannot affect the 2024 election campaign. How can hearings possibly not disrupt Trump’s campaign, for example? And what would happen if he is elected while the trials are still going on or even after he was scheduled to take office again? None of this is impossible since the next hearing on the New York charges is not scheduled until December, and Trump is famous for delaying legal cases against him. In fact, it seems likely. At this point, it also seems very possible that he will win the Republican nomination.
Trump’s election chances
Does Trump stand a chance of getting elected again?
At this point, it seems likely that Biden would defeat him, assuming that Biden is the Democratic nominee (which seems likely but not certain). But Biden’s ratings are extremely low right now, and if the economy tanks before the election his ratings will sink even lower.
“No Labels” Candidate
There is also a wild card: The possibility of a conservative third major candidate. Two days before Trump’s arraignment (April 2), the Washington Post reported on this possibility.The effort is apparently being spearheaded by right wing former Democratic senator turned independent, Joe Lieberman. He is joined by former North Carolina governor Pat McCrory, a Republican who just lost a Senate bid in the face of Trump opposition; former director of national intelligence Dennis Blair; and Benjamin Chavis Jr., a former executive director of the NAACP (!). Joe Manchin and former Republican governor of Maryland Larry Hogan may join them. According to the Post, they have already raised $70 million and they are now moving to get a candidate on the ballot in all or nearly all 50 states. If they succeed, and if they run a candidate, nobody knows if this will help the Democrats or the Republicans. It’s also possible that they may run candidates for the Senate.
In part, the effort is intended to push Biden and the Democrats further to the right. The effect will be something similar to the effect of the ultra MAGAists on Trump. Biden will be inclined to be conciliatory to them. But this will further alienate his most reliable voters, who are black women and younger voters.
It’s possible that their efforts could result in neither party having a majority in the senate, and although it seems unlikely, it can’t be ruled out that a “No Label” candidate could even win the presidency. Or the entire presidential election could be deadlocked and thrown to the House of Representatives to decide.
To return to the role of the hard-core MAGAists: the more they feel isolated, it seems the more that some of them may turn to acts of domestic terrorism. Some already have with their attacks on power substations.
In sum, we have an election campaign that seems almost certain to be unlike any other since before the US Civil War. What could be more appropriate to a US capitalist political crisis that is greater than any time since that period?
Meanwhile, the US labor leadership is silent.