If the aim of those who stormed the U.S. Capitol yesterday was to change the outcome of the presidential election and somehow perpetuate President Trump in power, they obviously failed spectacularly. After the mayhem subsided, Senators and Representatives returned to the legislative chambers and certified the electoral votes, confirming Joe Biden as president-elect of the United States. What were already destined to be fruitless pro forma objections to certain states’ slates of electors became even more so, as Republican Senators were wary of having their legitimate procedural moves conflated with the day’s lawless resistance. Anger and frustration with the President and his most zealous supporters boiled over even among his staunchest allies, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Mike Pence. The day’s events reinforced the commitment, even among the strongest Republican partisans on Capitol Hill, to affirm the legitimacy of incoming President Biden and see to a smooth and peaceful transfer of power. Ironically, far from having somehow managed to secure a second term, Trump today finds himself fighting just to stave off formal removal from office (via impeachment or 25th amendment action) in the last two weeks of his presidency.
Going forward, however, what will become of these most ardent citizens of “MAGA nation” and of the man and the cause that they champion? It is clear that both Trump and Trumpism are substantially weaker from a long-term standpoint than they were two days ago. Previously, one could have envisioned a “Trumpian restoration” in 2024, with Trump keeping his base stoked with resentment over electoral improprieties (real or—largely—imagined) in 2020 and promising a return to the “good old days” of 2019, when the economy was rolling and masks were reserved for Carnival and Halloween. That is much more difficult to imagine today, as the MAGA movement is now stained with the taint of insurrection. To be sure, those who stormed the Capitol are not representative of the 47% of Americans who voted for Donald Trump. They are a fringe of a fringe, constituting a few hundred among the tens of thousands in Washington for Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally—who themselves represent the most die-hard and conspiratorial wing of the Trump base. Nonetheless, their rampage, and the President’s tepid response to it, will forever color public perceptions of the Trump presidency. Trump’s existing difficulties with educated, centrist voters—already bad enough to doom his re-election bid—were exacerbated and made irreparable by yesterday’s events. Moreover, Trump’s uneasy alliance with mainstream Republicans is now shattered. Even among his staunchest erstwhile defenders, there is a palpable sense that it is time for the party to move on.
Yesterday’s events, however, made the internal reconciliation that Republican Party needs in order to move forward much more difficult. In order to win—in 2022, 2024, and beyond—they need to retain the core of Trump’s support while becoming more palatable to the educated, affluent suburbanites who were once their base. In essence, they need to be “Trumpy” enough to energize his supporters, but not so “Trumpy” that they alienate independents and moderate Republicans. Their ideal candidate would straddle the line between MAGA and mainstream Republicans, having credibility and respect with both groups. That was a narrow path to walk, even before January 6th. In the aftermath, it is not clear that there is any space left there at all.