WASHINGTON — He’s still chasing them.
These words — echoing famous words about Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s lingering effect on Canadian politics long after he left office — aptly describe former President Donald Trump’s ongoing hold on the US.
Hearings into his supporters’ Jan 6 effort to keep him in office are underway on primetime TV, any primaries result in the meantime has been interpreted as a referendum on his lasting influence, he continues to pack venues for his rallies and covering the field in the polls for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Could be Chase is the wrong word. Mid 2022, Trump dominates American politics. Still.
He is not only the leader, but the embodiment of an angry type of right-wing politics that exists in his own media and ideological world. Wrestling with it is the defining national issue of this era of American politics. And it could soon be a defining issue for Canadians too.
Sometimes it seems like that is changing.
Late last month, former Trump Vice President Mike Pence spoke at an airport just outside Atlanta, during a rally in support of Georgian Governor Brian Kemp. This was a direct rejection of the former president: Trump had made defeating Kemp one of his most important missions this year, and Trump appeared at a “phone meeting” against Kemp that same night.
In Atlanta, Pence seemed to point out that it was time to stop dwelling on Trump’s grievances and break with the past: “If you say yes to Governor Brian Kemp tomorrow, you’ll send a deafening message across America that the Republican party is the party of the future.”
Two nights later, after Kemp landed the nomination, there were no “Make America Great Again” hats at his downtown Atlanta win party. Add that to a win last year by Glenn Youngkin in the Virginia governor’s race that was touted as a template for a post-Trump Republican party. And a Colorado straw poll this week, in which some conservative activists voted for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as their preferred candidate for 2024. And periodic donor-class pleas, such as that of former Nevada Trump rainmaker Perry DiLoreto, who said: “I wish Trump would sit down and shut up. I think the country has had enough of him.” Add it up and it’s possible to convince yourself that Trump may be an exhausted force.
Especially now, as public hearings on the January 6 uprising reiterate the bloody and chaotic conclusion to his term in office. And while prosecutors in Georgia and at the federal Justice Department appear to be facing criminal charges.
Could an exorcism be near?
Uh, maybe not.
It’s certainly possible to imagine a situation where Trump is facing criminal charges — a report by five Brookings Institution lawyers this week pointed to a variety of federal and state charges whose publicly available evidence suggests Trump could be credibly charged. .
However, that is not certain. Maybe not even something probable. No former president has ever been charged with crimes committed while in office. Even if Trump were indicted, it’s hard to see how this would curtail his political influence.
Trump and his supporters have long built a persecution complex into the identity of his political movement, demonizing the press, the institutions of the US administration, his political opponents — even the significant number of his closest political allies who eventually call him out for bad behavior. – as part of an evil conspiracy against him. Allegations of sexual abuse, supported by a recording of him speaking of his own propensity to do so, were brushed aside. blackmailing the president of Ukraine who has since become a global war hero, the other after attempting to overthrow American democracy witnessed by all live on television – was seen as the only further proof that he is a persecuted hero.
While Trump was in office, polls showed that nearly half of Americans believed the press had made up stories about him. As of this year, a solid majority of Republicans seemed firmly convinced that he actually won the 2020 election.
A while back, in Bedford Country, PA, John Elliott told me he thought all politicians had the same dirty laundry as Trump, and the difference was the media coverage. “In the four years he was in office, he was just criticized all the time… and he just blows it off. I give him that.”
They, a majority of Republican voters, think he did nothing wrong. And make no mistake, they still support him.
Just look at the polls for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination: While much is being made of DeSantis’ strength, Trump Shows More Support Than DeSantis And Any Other Potential Candidate Combined† If he’s not in jail or low on unforeseen health issues, Trump is likely to walk away with the 2024 nomination.
Moreover, DeSantis’ perceived strength is actually indicative of Trump’s strength: Like almost all other alternatives popular among Republicans, he is a creature of Trump’s movement. The anti-wake, Fauci-fighting, quick-push, enemy-hunting, name-calling template that made DeSantis prominent was Trump’s.
In Rome, Georgia, last month, where Trump’s brand is strong enough that his endorsement is a prominent feature of candidates’ lawn boards, a gray-haired Kemp voter who wouldn’t tell me her name said she’s still talking to the governor. of Georgia and Trump as a member of the same team – her team – and that the “personal” feud between them was overhyped by the media. “Governor. Kemp does a good job for us. Just like President Trump has done well for us.”
Even if Trump himself is soon ousted, the party he led will continue to follow in his footsteps.
Canada is not immune to the effects of this phenomenon.
Many Canadians may be concerned about the ramifications of our biggest trading partner and closest ally bringing Trump or someone like him to power. But more than that, Canadians are beginning to see the rise of a right-wing populist movement cut off from it — for example, in the People’s Party antics of Maxime Bernier in the most recent federal election, and in the convoy protests that shut down Ottawa for weeks. last winter. And in the dominant candidacy of Pierre Poilievre in the conservative leadership race.
EKOS Research pollster Frank Graves has long warned that the “ordered populist view” (that is, authoritarianism) under Trump’s support is strong enough in Canada that exploiting it may be the conservative’s best electoral strategy. party. That’s what Poilievre seems to be doing now.
“Support for Mr Poilievre is highly concentrated among voters expressing this orderly populist view, the connection is very strong,” Graves said. His candidacy, from hanging out with Jordan Peterson to catering to the anti-vaccine mandate crowd to demonizing elites, is tailor-made to emulate the American movement, Graves said, and he’s using it to walk away with the nomination.
“I think he’s playing the textbook for this northern Trumpist crowd.” Graves thinks he has a good chance of winning the next Canadian election.
But for Canadians disinclined to vote that way, and baffled at Trump’s continued strength in the US, the question may not be if Trump retains his grip, but Why† After all, why do so many Americans still support him with an almost religious fervor?
I’ve asked that question to people in states across the country over the years, and the answers can be varied and complicated.
From Trump supporters you hear complaints about race issues and education that sometimes amount to white grudges. You hear complaints about gender issues. About cancel culture. And about major shifts in the economy — especially the shift from the carbon fuels and toward free trade that they blame for crushing many traditional job categories.
“People I know who live around here are coal people, energy people,” a man named Paul told me on a terrace in Johnstown, PA, just before the last election. “Biden is getting back in. They’re going to destroy the energy industry.”
Paul said part of what he and his friends loved about Trump was that he was so chaotic, divisive and outrageous. ‘He’s not a politician. And I think that’s more in line with a lot of American people.”
Last year, a woman in Virginia who backed Trump and Youngkin for governor summed up that Democrats — and what she saw as the special interests behind Critical Race Theory and gender education in schools, and COVID mandates — were tearing her community apart, one she thought felt there. she used to feel more at home. “Those loud, outspoken people are the ones who get what they want. We don’t want to hear any more about it. Shut up! Just keep them quiet, that’s how I feel, you know?”
Perhaps the most indicative answer I’ve heard came from a man from Georgia named Greg Mintz who told me, “I know the world is advancing and I’m making progress. But some of the changes I’m hearing from the Democratic side — I don’t want my daughter growing up in a world that looks so different from the one I grew up in.”
You boil it all down and a lot of people feel like the world is changing in ways that shut them out, or make them feel like the power they used to have has diminished. They are angry about it.
Donald Trump channels that anger and promises revenge.
Trump is often accused by traditional corporate Republicans of not being a “true conservative” given his economic populism against free trade. But William F. Buckley famously said, “A conservative is one who stands across history and yells stop.”
Trump, whose slogan “Make America Great Again” is about returning to an idealized past, is that: He’s yelling “stop.” And threaten with a significant “or else”.
Recently, Trump has been obsessed with the recent past — the election he says has been stolen from him. But it is an extension of a larger theme in which he claimed that his supporters stole their economic and cultural power from them.
Those who want the party to move beyond Trump, like Pence in that speech, may want to talk about the party of the future. But they are boats against the current, incessantly carried back into the past – taking their land with them. Haunted by a former president who won’t let go of his imagined former glory. And his loyal supporters, who do not want that.
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