“Trump is doubling down on his profile of extremist and cult leader,” says Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of Strong Men: From Mussolini to the Present Day and a history professor at New York University. “For someone with Trump’s temperament, humiliation at the hands of people who turn away from him will only make him more desperate and more inclined to support and associate with the most extremist elements of society. There is no other option for him.”
Analysts and strategists see his pivot to the far right as a deliberate strategy to restore political momentum that the former president may be losing, with at least some polls showing him trailing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for the Republican nomination in 2024.
But his Republican critics worry the move will tarnish the party at a time when it needs to broaden its support. “It continues to damage the brand, especially with downtown and suburban voters,” said former Florida Representative Carlos Curbelo. “But it also makes it easier for Republican leaders to break away from him and start a new chapter.”
Like no other modern president has flirted with the margins of American society, Trump openly appeals to prejudices based on race, religion, national origin and sexual orientation, among other things. He generated support for his 2016 presidential campaign by spreading the lie that President Barack Obama was secretly born outside the United States, then opened up his candidacy by labeling many Mexican immigrants as rapists.
He vowed to bar all Muslims from entering the country and was slow to turn down support from David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Most famously, he wavered after the 2017 far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned bloody and denounced neo-Nazis, even as he said there were “very fine people on both sides” of the conflict.
But in the final days of his presidency, as he waged a war on all fronts to overturn the election he lost, Trump was increasingly willing to entertain allies who urged him to declare martial law while groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys mobilized. to come to his aid.
In recent weeks, Trump has taken on QAnon themes and retweeted baseless conspiracy theories from a movement that believes he is a champion against a cabal of Satan-worshiping, pedophile elites. He has characterized those who attacked Congress to stop the transfer of power on January 6 as patriots whom he would likely extend leniency to if elected again. “I mean full pardon with an apology for many,” he said in September.
“Trump’s inner job is well aware that he’s lost the excitement of 2016 and there’s a school of thought that thinks picking up the most die-hard part of his base is the key to bringing it back,” said Alyssa Farah Griffin, who served as White House strategic communications director for Trump before breaking with him after the 2020 election. “However, the reality is that this means reaching out to fringe, racist elements that have traditionally been sidelined by the party mainstream.”
Trump did not comment after Rhodes’ sentencing and a minor Tuesday. While Trump did not publicly endorse the incendiary conspiracy set up on his behalf, he did not disown it either. A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a message on Thursday asking for the former president’s opinion on the verdict.
Evidence at trial showed that from Election Day through January 6, Rhodes attempted multiple times to send messages to Trump imploring him to enact the Insurrection Act, which the Oath Keeper said would make it legal for his militia to use violence. use to keep the president inside. office.
In a message he attempted to send after Jan. 6, Rhodes warned that if Trump did not stop Biden from taking office, there would be “struggle right here on American soil.” But the process failed to show that the message actually reached Trump, nor that he was directly involved in directing their activities.
The only president ever explicitly associated with sedition was John Tyler, but not for actions he took while in office. Long after his term expired in 1845, Tyler joined his native Virginia and left the Union he had once led. He served in a secession convention that sparked the Civil War, as well as in the Provisional Congress of the seceded Southern states, and was subsequently elected to the permanent Confederate House of Representatives, though he died before he could take his seat.
Franklin Pierce, another former president and a friend of Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, was seen as a Confederate sympathizer during the war. At one point, he was accused by Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State of being connected to a seditious organization, an accusation Pierce vehemently denied. In another episode, decades earlier, Aaron Burr, a former vice president, was tried for treason for allegedly trying to trick Western states into leaving the country, but was acquitted by a jury.
Despite that, Trump stands out. The trial of Rhodes and his compatriots raises questions that have not yet been seriously asked about a sitting president in anyone’s life, namely whether he has gone beyond inspiring violent extremists in a way that violates the law.
Jon Lewis, a research fellow at George Washington University’s program on extremism, said this week’s statements confirmed that Trump and his team had learned how to tap into the anger, racism and anti-democratic views of such forces.
“The convictions of Rhodes and his co-conspirators are evidence of what has long been recognized – that the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and the thousands who traveled to the Capitol did so in response to the numerous calls to action by Trump and others leading up to January 6,” he said. “These were the foot soldiers of the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement, determined to use force to prevent the certification of the electoral ballot.”
Trump’s growing embrace of extremism has left Republicans scrambling once again to figure out how to distance themselves from him. While he has said he didn’t know who Fuentes was before being brought to dinner at Mar-a-Lago by Ye, Trump knew Ye was under fire for anti-Semitic statements and invited him anyway.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, which has supported Trump, issued a statement Thursday denouncing Ye and Fuentes for their latest comments and implicitly rebuking Trump. “Conservatives who have falsely admitted Kanye West must make it clear that he is a pariah,” the statement said. “Enough is enough.” But it did not mention Trump by name.
Trump showed no signs of withdrawing. Whatever he gets from the establishment for his dealings, he presumably reasons, is surpassed by the support he enjoys from the fiery sections of his rank and file. Whether he shares all their views or just gives in to them, his test has always been whether someone supports him or not. And while many of his own former advisers desert him, he is left with the most hardcore allies whispering in his ear.
“The question many of us have been asking about Trump for years is whether he actually buys what he sells, particularly about the election lies,” Griffin said. “I think as time has gone on and he’s out of the office, surrounded by a ragtag group of advisers, he’s getting more and more into the fringe conspiracy theories of a vocal minority within the GOP.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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