On His Way Out, Trump Trashes America—and the GOP | Opinion

As he finally exits amid predictable chaos, Donald Trump's final few acts have tested, but not broken, America's democratic institutions. In what should have been a pro forma ceremony for Congress to accept the Electoral College vote and Joe Biden's election as president, Senate Republicans maneuvering to succeed Trump in four years, and House Republicans desperate for his continuing affection, dragged Congress through hours of empty procedural delays, irrelevant rhetoric and in the end, a predictable futile result. They thus joined Rudy Guiliani and his "elite strike force" of gumshoe attorneys in their half-baked challenges to Biden's win.

The occupation of the U.S. Capitol by a terrorist mob and the violence of the last 24 hours is heartbreaking to all Americans, especially to those of us who have worked in and around Congress. This is the heart of our democracy, where laws are discussed and debated with direct participation from the American people. The months of the president, some right-wing media and a few ambitious politicians repeating baseless conspiracies about a stolen election resulted in some of the worst violence our country has seen since Vietnam and maybe the 1860s. Historians noted that the last time the Capitol was occupied by hostile forces was the British during the war of 1812. January 6, 2021 is a day which will live in Infamy. The "carnage" Trump spoke about in his inaugural remarks four years ago was on full display.

Once again, it was left to President-Elect Biden to speak inspirationally to the country and urge calm. It will be up to him to bring a shattered country together, something he has been doing since the November election. Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney and other Republican senators also spoke forcefully in defense of democracy. Resisting enormous pressure, Vice President Pence carried out his constitutional duties to insure Biden's certification. By contrast, Trump's taped message repeated the Big Lie that the election was "stolen" from him, resulting in his being banned by Twitter for a too-brief period of time. Even with only 13 days remaining in his term, the 25th Amendment would seem an appropriate remedy, if a Cabinet member of conscience could be found.

This piece was initially about the GOP and where it stands after four years of being controlled by Donald Trump and his family. The party has been in lockstep with him, but perhaps things are finally changing. In addition to being the first incumbent to lose reelection in nearly 30 years, the GOP lost the House in 2018 and the Senate just yesterday. The Senate loss is especially galling, as Republicans only had to win one of two Georgia runoff races. Though Trump campaigned for Senators Perdue and Loeffler, he focused far more on his grievances, especially his loss in the Georgia popular vote in November, than in boosting their prospects. He repeatedly complained of electoral fraud and in a widely publicized call just before the runoff election pressured the Republican Secretary of State to change the state's vote totals, despite three recounts that confirmed he had lost. His baseless conspiracy mongering could very well have deterred Republicans from voting, or soured other voters on supporting Loeffler and Perdue.

His late-term legislative maneuverings also didn't help. Last week, both Houses of Congress easily overrode Trump's veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, thereby prioritizing U.S. national defense interests and pay increases for American servicemen over Trump's objections to renaming military bases for someone other than long dead Confederate generals. The vote put Republican members in the awkward position of opposing the Trump veto, so Loeffler and Perdue, under fire for flip-flopping on other matters, predictably skipped the vote entirely. But this vote pales compared to GOP difficulties due to Trump's tortured actions on the recently passed COVID-19 stimulus bill.

Trump's biggest problem has always been his lack of any core convictions or governing philosophy. As president, Trump focused on stoking resentment, Twitter threats and insults. His accomplishments, signing tax cut legislation and judicial appointments, owed far more credit to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. He never came close delivering on major promises like replacing Obamacare, developing better trade relationships, or getting Mexico to pay for his border wall.

This chaos played itself out in the Covid relief and budget bill Congress enacted just prior to Christmas. For months, Trump said nothing about the legislation but in the end deferred to his Treasury Secretary who negotiated for his Administration. Upon Congressional passage, Trump suddenly threated to veto the bill, demanding much larger direct payments ($2,000 rather than $600) to individuals than his Republican Party would support. Trump then made common cause with Democratic leaders who supported the higher payments, thereby putting his own party members, including Loeffler and Perdue, in jeopardy. Not surprisingly, House Republicans who use the RINO label on anyone who ever utters an independent thought, supported the huge increase demanded by Trump, leaving it to McConnell and Senate Republicans to kill the effort. Meanwhile the Republican Senate candidates running in Georgia were caught in the crossfire. They again pivoted and supported the higher levels, but it was one pivot too many.

Trump's change of heart seemed to have involved nothing more than anger at Senate Republicans who had acknowledged the obvious – that Trump has lost the election and that Biden would soon be occupying the Oval Office. Such pettiness and small thinking are hallmarks to Trumpism, and along with constant questioning of Georgia's electoral machinery, cost the GOP control of the Senate.
This back of the envelope strategy will play out again and again in the coming years if the Trump family attempts to control the GOP from Mar a Lago. This will be a formidable task, however. An ex president has a fraction of the power of an incumbent, as Trump soon will learn. He will also face substantial legal jeopardy as well as financial challenges to his real estate empire and his reported desire to form a new media company will occupy an increasing portion of his time.
To this we can add the designs of ambitious men and women, including those who brought his electoral challenges in the Senate, who will be looking for their time in the sun and will move quickly to the front of the line. That's another lesson that they learned from the master. Loyalty runs one way and everyone is disposable.

Welcome to the opening of the 2024 Republican presidential primary.

Frank Donatelli served as assistant for political affairs to President Ronald Reagan and as deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee during the 2008 presidential campaign of John McCain.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​