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Senate trial proves again Trump still owns the GOP

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Yes, a pack of Trump’s Palm Beach neighbors made news with their effort to evict him from Mar-a-Lago. Yes, thousands opted out as Twitter followers of former Trump yes-man Rudy Giuliani. And yes, there is still more anti-Trump news, with Georgia state officials saying they’ll launch a criminal probe of Trump’s election tampering there.

But this is all sideshow stuff and doesn’t change this blunt fact: 197 GOP House members said no to Trump’s impeachment. Roughly the same number said no to stripping Trump yes-woman Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee posts. In the other congressional wing, most GOP senators said no to a Trump impeachment conviction. Meanwhile, a legion of GOP-controlled state legislatures are concocting dozens of bills to radically restrict voting.

It’s been three months since Trump lost the election decisively to Biden. Yet you can still count on one hand the number of top Republicans who have appeared on national Sunday talk shows to condemn Trump’s actions.

The sickening footage of the storming of the Capitol by Trump-instigated terrorists Jan. 6 looked like the Bolsheviks storming the Winter Palace, igniting the Russian Revolution. No matter — a parade of GOP senators flatly said that this was not enough to vote for a Trump conviction. Their rallying around the disgraced former President has nothing to do with personal or partisan dislike of the impeachment process aimed at one of their own. It’s a matter of numbers, fear and brutal political gamesmanship.

Trump’s 74 million votes is the greatest number of votes a losing presidential candidate has gotten in a free election anywhere, ever. In fact, it’s a greater number than any American presidential winner had gotten before. How Trump got those staggering numbers tells much about why GOP politicians are still scared stiff of an out-of-office Trump.

The 2022 midterms are around the corner. Nearly two dozen GOP senators are up for reelection. Many still have fresh memories of a decade ago, when hard-right Republican activists saber-rattled GOP senators, demanding they hew to their political line or they’d find a hard-rightist to run against them in the primary. No GOP incumbent wants to sweat through that nightmare again. The tens of millions of Trump backers loom big in their terror.

Trump has fueled that fear, dropping lots of hints that he’ll punish any GOP rep who doesn’t continue to give him full-throated support. Trump’s frenzied backers are the GOP’s life support. Any fall off the cliff from that support means kissing control of the Senate goodbye. This would blow to smithereens Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s long game of obstructing every major initiative of Biden and the Democrats.

Even if Trump vanished in thin air overnight it wouldn’t alter the powerful, undeniable forces that propel American politics. So powerful that, despite the irrefutable proof that the 2020 presidential vote process was accurate and untainted, more than half of Republicans still claim the election was stolen from Trump. They still spin every kind of ridiculous conspiracy theory about the alleged theft and make clear they’ll never acknowledge the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency.

Much is made that America will no longer be an old-white-guy-run country in 2050, that white male voters have steadily dropped in national elections, and that Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, women and young persons will be the new majority voters. But that’s a long way off. White males still have outsized voter clout in the crucial Heartland and the South.

Trump and the GOP know that. This means continuing to play hard on his base’s latent racist, anti-immigrant, anti-woman pseudo-patriotic sentiment.

This was always Trump’s ace card to tighten his paralyzing grip on the GOP mainstream leadership. A disgraced, out-of-office Trump hasn’t changed that one bit.

The great mystery to many Americans was always why the GOP prostituted itself to a guy who, by their own professed party principles and practices, wouldn’t even rate backing for dog catcher. The reason is simple. Trump bullied and intimidated GOP leaders into believing that defying him spells doom for incumbents in their reelection bids. That’s the voter loyalty that buys a lot of support from the GOP establishment even as they shook their heads in disgust at Trump’s toxic presidency. That hasn’t changed. That’s why Trump still owns the GOP.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.