One of these days, and I pray that day comes soon, I will arrive at a writing assignment with no compelling reason to type the letters t-r-u-m-p in that particular sequence. Ignoring him completely will someday be balm and reward, not to mention responsible journalism. The fact that he appears to be positioning himself to potentially destroy the Republican Party, however, means I have to write that name a few more times before I’m free.
After losing the 2020 election dozens of times at the ballot box and subsequently in courtrooms across the land, Donald Trump incited a frenzied mob of supporters to sack the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., in order to stop the final certification of his defeat. For the next several hours, the whole world watched as MAGA-hatted raiders broke windows, climbed walls, trashed congressional offices and took selfies with Capitol Police officers, one of whom was murdered by a Trump-supporting rioter wielding a fire extinguisher.
Though the business of the legislative branch was able to continue hours later after the rioters and their Confederate flags were cleared out, it became clear over subsequent days that this wasn’t just some goofy thrill for the participants; a number of them wanted to hang Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and erected a gallows on the Capitol grounds to do just that.
Not many days later, that Congress impeached Trump for the second time in 13 months, and 10 GOP House members voted with the majority. The articles of impeachment are slated to arrive in the Senate today, where newly established Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will begin the trial on the 9th of next month.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (now that I can type all damn day long) is furiously trying to assert control he no longer enjoys over the process in order to gum up the impeachment works. The situation for McConnell is exceedingly perilous.
As the impeachment trial date looms, a number in his caucus want to throw caution to the wind and vote to convict, thus drumming Trump out of presidential politics for all time. For Republican senators looking to run for the White House in 2024, taking Trump off the board is the only realistic way they believe they can secure the nomination. Profiles in courage, baby.
The other faction of the caucus remains steadfastly devoted to Trump (and equally devoted to/terrified of/greedy for his base). These members are demanding congressional Republicans continue to cleave to him like remoras on the underbelly of a shark. McConnell’s response to these warring factions, so far, is to make the laughable argument that impeaching a president who has left office is unconstitutional (no, it isn’t). Many of his colleagues are taking up this argument, flawed and wrong as it is, in order to try and conjure away a trial that may crack the party in half.
That, right there, is where the fun Trump bit kicks in. Furious at the serial betrayals of formerly loyal Republicans and aghast at the possibility of being convicted in a Senate trial, the former president has floated the idea of starting his own political party and launching a vengeance tour on all Republicans who dare oppose him. He would call it the Patriot Party, a title formerly used by Ross Perot when he ran for president. (Before him, the name was used by a group of poor and working-class white people who organized alongside the Black Panthers and Young Lords, and was part of the Rainbow Coalition.)
Journalist Maggie Haberman of The New York Times tweeted yesterday that Trump appears to have been dissuaded from pursuing the Patriot Party course for now. “Trump has been talked out of that and is making clear to people he isn’t pursuing it,” she reported.
Haberman is a superior journalist and I am certain her reporting is solid … for the moment. If Senate Republicans look as if they might vote to convict, however, all bets are off. Trump has tens of millions of dollars he fleeced from his followers during the “legal challenges” phase of his failed re-election bid. How many times has Trump suddenly turned on a dime and pursued an eminently self-destructive course of action? Answer: Pretty much all of the times.
Because it is Trump, there is an angle to this Patriot Party thing. This time, it is the impeachment. Trump is flapping the Patriot Party at Senate Republicans as a warning: Vote to acquit, or I will split the right and come for you. “The President has made clear his goal is to win back the House and Senate for Republicans in 2022,” former Trump senior strategist Jason Miller tweeted. “There’s nothing that’s actively being planned regarding an effort outside of that, but it’s completely up to Republican Senators if this is something that becomes more serious.”
The menace in that last sentence is palpable, and with large and influential sectors of Trump’s base in active meltdown after the promised revolution failed to materialize on Inauguration Day, the entire Republican Party is experiencing a moment of deep and unsettled dismay. If Trump follows through on his threat and splits the right, Republicans will be hard pressed to win midterm and presidential elections in anything but the reddest of states. It would be, for all practical purposes, the end of the Republican Party’s existence as a political body with influence and power.
The Patriot Party may be coming to a ballot near you in 2022. Jason Miller was right: Much depends on the choices made by Senate Republicans next month. If they capitulate, they are stuck with Trump forever. If they vote to convict, he could shatter the GOP with a third-party uprising. Because Trump is Trump, he may decide to launch this new party even if Senate Republicans carry him to acquittal again, just because he loves to see his own face on TV.