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Larry Donnelly: Could the GOP actually nominate Trump again?

“I may have misjudged the extent of his capacity for malfeasance, but I have never underestimated the appeal of Donald Trump’s brand of politics,” writes Larry in this week’s column.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

6 JANUARY 2021 is a day that I have sought to put out of my mind with no luck. The scenes of fanatical Trump supporters running amuck in and doing physical damage to the Capitol building, as well as viciously attacking law enforcement officers who attempted to quell the chaotic uprising, were both heartbreaking and infuriating.

I never thought that anything like it would come to pass. Those who despise the former president had asserted repeatedly that it was inevitable. A few of them subsequently told me that I was wrong and reiterated their belief that I had consistently underrated the threat presented by Donald Trump to the United States and to the rest of world since his surprising win over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The release of Michael Wolff’s new book, Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency, has brought the appalling events in Washington, DC as President Joe Biden’s victory was being formalised by the Congress back to centre stage. This is Wolff’s third book on Donald Trump and it offers some frightening details as to the mental condition of the commander-in-chief of the American armed forces in his final days in the White House.

It is worth noting – as Trump devotees definitely will – that this is Wolff’s latest highly profitable tome assailing the New York billionaire for whom the journalist manifestly has no use. Trump’s acolytes will deny the veracity of much of what is contained in it. Additionally, they will raise old charges against Wolff that, in prior writings, he had committed “apparent factual errors,” “invented or changed quotes” and that elements of his past columns “aren’t recreated so much as created – springing from [his] imagination rather than from actual knowledge”.

That said, notwithstanding Trump’s anger at the contents of Wolff’s first two publications in which he features, his lawyers were unable to point to any demonstrable falsehoods and did not pursue the litigation they hinted at. Wolff obviously has sources who are close to the key players in the previous administration who have been incredibly candid and more than willing to spill all of the beans.

Provocative

An especially provocative excerpt of Landslide was printed in a recent edition of New York magazine. In it, Trump is alleged to have looked out at the enormous crowds who showed up at his rallies with disdain, calling a significant component of his base “the great unwashed” and joking derisively that he should have invested in a chain of tattoo parlours, given how many attendees were covered in them.

He was all but sure that, with the assistance of sympathetic members of Congress, the ostensible election result would be overturned on 6 January, even though no one else – bar the disgraced Rudy Giuliani – thought there was a chance of that happening and there had been no concerted outreach to this end. And on that day, as the riot was in full flow, he either could not or would not grasp the magnitude of what was transpiring and only very reluctantly spoke out in opposition to it.

In a fascinating interview with Matt Cooper on The Last Word on Today FM this week, Wolff said that he does not regard Trump as a dictator or a despot. Instead, he thinks that he is “absolutely delusional” with respect to the outcome in November 2020 and is convinced that triumph was illegitimately snatched from his fingertips by corrupt Democrats.

Wolff was also scathing of right-wing Republicans insofar as they made a “devil’s bargain” with an individual they knew to be “off his rocker” largely due to his appointing the conservative judges they so desired.

Now in his post-presidency, as Wolff related to Cooper, Trump lives at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida where he conducts business in a lobby in front of an audience of passers-by, not in the privacy of an office. Every night, and only once the dining room is packed, he strides in exultantly with his wife Melania to a centrally located table and invariably receives a standing ovation from those gathered. Bizarre and egotistical are strong adjectives, yet they still don’t quite capture this type of carry-on.

This is pretty damning stuff. At the same time, however, I would bet that this book and others soon following (prompting Trump to lash out in a statement that “some of the stars I produced are actually made of garbage”) will not fundamentally alter how GOP operatives currently respond when the question is posed or what is making several aspirants for their party’s presidential nomination in 2024 extremely circumspect when asked about their intentions: the reality is that Donald Trump would, in all likelihood, be chosen as the Republican standard bearer if he opts to launch a campaign.

Rise to power

I may have misjudged the extent of his capacity for malfeasance, but I have never underestimated the appeal of Donald Trump’s brand of politics. While I concur with Michael Wolff when he says that Trump doesn’t care about specific issues, I do think he is firmly of the view that the US was on the wrong track for decades before his improbable rise to power. If he has a core, animating principle, that is it.

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Many millions of Americans agree unreservedly with him. They eagerly embrace his slogans – America First and Make America Great Again – which they can read lots into and see as vehicles for expressing their myriad grievances.

Activists on the left loathed what became mantras for moral reasons and because the clued-in strategists among them recognised their allure, politically speaking. They remain potent.

But after everything Americans have learned, and keep learning, about Donald Trump the man and after all he put our country through in his tumultuous, tawdry four year tenure, how is it that, at least at this moment, he could be credibly perceived to be the favourite on the Republican side to challenge President Biden or another Democrat in three years’ time?

Three letters come to mind: WTF?

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie.

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Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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