Susan Collins, the GOP Senator from Maine who just won her sixth term despite having all the integrity of a weathervane in a tornado, thought the nation of Iran was attacking the Capitol building on Wednesday. Only when a law enforcement officer explained the situation from a podium did she realize that it was Trump supporters (read: Republican voters) who were battering down the doors.
Collins is a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Leave aside the fact that a person in her position actually thinks Iran has the capacity to sack the Capitol, and is willing to admit so in the public prints. Perhaps worse, no one appears to have seen fit to warn her or her committee members that the president of the United States had spent weeks inviting his band of wreckers to show up in Washington, D.C., and trash the joint on that day.
Collins, along with stalwarts like Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley, Mitt Romney and John Thune, represent the “establishment” wing of the GOP. They are not in the same spots on the radical right spectrum — Collins is a “moderate,” don’tcha know, wink wink — but they and their allies have all taken part in building the army that came for them last week with hanging ropes and zip ties.
Wednesday’s thoroughly predictable and publicly planned presidential disgrace has seemingly caused a tectonic shift in the positioning of the Republican right. At 9 am tomorrow, one week since the mayhem came calling, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will formally open impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump for the second time. Trump has until then to resign or face the 25th Amendment, but after he and Mike Pence buddied it up yesterday, neither scenario seems at all likely.
With impeachment the sole remaining option, it is apparent a significant number of House Republicans will vote with the Democrats. The numbers are fluid, with some estimates as high as 20 defections, but whatever it turns out to be will be more than the none who voted with Pelosi the last time this circus came calling.
One thing seems clear: This will not be the same desultory affair that opened 2020. Pelosi is pissed, because now it’s actually personal, and she is going to spend the hours between now and then leaning hard into every House member who wondered last week if they would get out of the building alive. Three House members — two Democrats and a Republican — were infected with COVID during the Capitol lockdown. This story gets worse by the hour.
The major right-wing media outlets that grew wealthy and powerful stoking these flames are facing their own “establishment vs. Trump fringe” crisis. Fox News, which is getting outflanked by Trump-loving upstarts like Newsmax and OANN, has chosen to double down on the president who tried to have his vice president killed.
In contrast, Cumulus Media — mothership of the radio giant Westwood One and home to some of the most radical right voices on the airwaves — has informed its people to cool it immediately on the stolen election blather or face termination. “We need to help induce national calm NOW,” wrote Cumulus executive vice president Brian Philips in an internal company memo. “If you transgress this policy, you can expect to separate from the company immediately.”
This is far more than inside baseball within big media. Ever since Rupert Murdoch made his network the propaganda launcher for the GOP, that party has come to rely on all of right-wing media to march in lock step, and for decades, they largely have. If that cohesion crumbles, as it clearly seems to be, we will have Trump Republicans screaming at establishment Republicans on these once-friendly networks, and whichever side prevails will likely set the course for the future of the entire GOP.
The various far-right white supremacist organizations that turned the Capitol into a felony murder crime scene are also cracking apart online, but in far more sinister fashion. With bans from Twitter and Facebook, and with Parler going dark, all of a sudden there is no single room for these people to gather (though sites like Gab have quickly emerged as alternatives). This is not necessarily a uniformly good thing, as many have moved their planning and communications to encrypted platforms that are far more difficult to monitor, so warnings of future violence could be more difficult to raise.
“Adding to the muddle, when Twitter and Facebook kicked Mr. Trump off their platforms last week, they made it harder for organizers to rally around a singular voice,” reports The New York Times. “The result is an unexpected side effect of the expulsions from mainstream social media platforms: Attempts at disruption could be harder to predict and could stretch for days — and not just in Washington, D.C.”
And as for the man at the center of it all? In the aftermath of the riot he incited, Donald Trump’s world looks to be falling apart around his ears. He is on the verge of becoming the first president to be impeached twice, an astonishing feat for a guy who only managed a single term. Many of his close White House allies have made for the exits. His Mar-a-Lago neighbors are preparing to bar him at the door if he tries to live there, and if he attempts to return to New York, the city will give him no peace. Forever and ever, he will be the one-term Republican president who lost the House, Senate, White House and the state of Georgia, and he knows it, and it scalds.
The PGA has taken away a major tournament at Trump’s Bedminster golf course. Salesforce, the platform that runs his millions-strong email list has frozen that account to keep him or the GOP from using “our services in any way that could lead to violence.” The Trump online store is gone. Thanks to him, a parade of major business donors have cut off the Republican Party entirely. Deutsche Bank and Signature Bank, two of his largest (publicly known) lenders have broken ties with him, and he has more than a half billion dollars in debts coming due in the next few years. As ever, the Manhattan district attorney and New York State attorney general are lurking, lurking, waiting for his badly abused presidential veil of protection to be stripped away by the hurricane winds of change.
As bad as all this is for Trump, his street fighters are still committed. They are vowing to follow through on their violent threats and become a separatist group marauding the land. This would create continued fissures in the GOP, and conflict for Trump personally, as he has been advised by lawyers that he could face both criminal and civil liability for his actions last week. But according to his followers, those actions have only begun.
How much of this Trump really knows or is even aware of remains an open question. Only yesterday, he was telling his remaining staff in the White House that “antifa people” were responsible for sacking the Capitol and murdering a law enforcement officer. Yet this morning, he told the press that impeaching him could lead to violence. Also, he’s saying it’s the Democrats’ fault. He remains a vivid menace to the nation, and will be so until the day they wind him in his shroud.
Trump is traveling to Alamo, Texas, today. At long last, it seems a preponderance of the Republican Party would like him to stay there. Too late, folks: You dance with them what brung ya, even if they take you right over a cliff.
Meanwhile, it’s vital for all to remember that turmoil for the Republican Party does not necessarily equal safety for the rest of us. In fact, all of these fissures and conflicts are sharpening the teeth of some of the most extreme elements of the far right. Trump’s diehard followers are not going away. Even as we cheer the GOP’s internal distress, we must remain watchful, recognizing that, in the words of acclaimed sociologist Walden Bello, “I think you should be expecting more street warfare being waged by the right in the United States at this point in time…. If they can’t win electorally, they’ll win through trying to control the streets.”