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Trump’s Way

The manner in which Trump is addressing meetings seems to suggest that he is the strongman in the party and no one else can raise hopes of a Republican comeback.

ASHOK NILAKANTAN |

Facing possible action in the Senate Judiciary Committee probing the January 6 Capitol Hill riots, former President Donald Trump has begun drumming up support for himself as the rallying point for the Republican party, thus prepping himself for the presidential ticket in 2024.

The manner in which Trump is addressing meetings seems to suggest that he is the strongman in the party and no one else can raise hopes of a Republican comeback. He has even laid out an outreach for black voters with his Republican convention speech, and his rhetoric seems to have swayed many Republicans.

Media reports suggest that he has compared his rhetoric to the iconic “I have a dream” speech of the assassinated black civil rights leader Martin Luther King. Instead of garnering support, the speech has only helped to invite heavy criticism from the black and white communities.

It has also polarized the Republicans as pro- and anti with the latter facing threats of expulsion. This could lead to a possible split in the Republican party itself, analysts predict. Five Republicans who differ with Trump face the threat of expulsion. Trump vainly suggests that he is one of the greatest crowd pullers in America. Interestingly, in 2016, the day after his inauguration, he had pushed the then White House press secretary Sean Spicer to tell media that the crowd he had on hand was historic. “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period – both in person and around the globe,” Spicer said. “These attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong.” (He has since said he regrets making that ridiculous claim.)

This time he went “nuts”, says American media. Trump laid it thick calling the January 6 riot a “simple protest that got out of hand.” Trump then said, “that was the largest crowd that I have ever spoken to … that was a crowd where there was unbelievable love and patriotism in the air.” He repeated his claim about the crowd being the biggest crowd he had ever spoken to no fewer than three times.

Trump then – somehow – moved to talking about the speech he gave on the National Mall on 4 July 2020, reports CNN and invited a backlash with this statement: “On July 4, I gave a speech two years ago at the mall, and it was the same mall that the great Martin Luther King Jr. gave [his speech].

The structure is identical. You have the Washington Monument, you have the wall, you have the Lincoln Monument the pools ever thing. And Dr. King gave a speech and it was great. They showed the picture and it was massive. They said it was a million people Then I gave my speech and they showed the same thing Everything was identical I gave my speech. So, they said one million people. My pictures were exactly the same, but the people were slightly closer together. They were more compact. There were more people, they were tighter together if you look at it. Dr. Martin Luther King had a million, and that’s fine. Donald Trump with more people, had 25,000.”

Trump is a man who favourably compared himself to, among others, Abraham Lincoln, says CNN analyst Chris Cillazza. “Put aside then, for a moment, the utter craziness of comparing any speech to one of the most iconic addresses in American history and just deal in facts,” he says.

According to the National Archives, more than 250,000 demonstrators attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that King spoke at in 1963. The crowd for Trump’s speech is harder to pin down – largely because Trump so politicized the crowd counts. There’s no question there were thousands of people there, but it seems very unlikely that the crowd rivaled that of King. And even less likely that there were one million or more people on the mall that July day says the CNN analyst. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was a seminal moment in American history – a soaring piece of rhetoric about what America was and what it could be. Trump’s July 4 speech was hardly seminal, and most Americans feel the comparison was odious.

For Trump’s speech was a steady stream of Covid-19 misinformation mixed with his usual selfcongratulatory rhetoric. According to reports, for the first time in four years, the Texas Republicans met in person at their state party convention over the weekend. Consider what transpired. They approved a measure that stated that President Joe Biden “was not legitimately elected.” Second, they rebuked the 10 Senate Republicans involved in the bipartisan talks on gun legislation – including Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who was booed during his speech.

Third, they voted to advance language in the party platform that describes homosexuality as “an abnormal lifestyle choice” and calls on students “to learn about the humanity of the preborn child.” They harassed Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw, calling him “eye patch McCain.” (Crenshaw, during military service in Afghanistan, lost his eye), angering a section of the more moderate Republicans, who worry about public perception on divisive and derisive issues and want to guard the vote bank. Take the treatment of Cornyn and Crenshaw. Both Republicans are solidly conservative. Cornyn has a 78 per cent rating from Heritage Action, a conservative think tank. Crenshaw’s rating from that same group is 92 per cent. So, what did they do wrong? In Cornyn’s case, he decided to take a leadership role – in the wake of a mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas – in talks to bring a decidedly narrow framework on guns that would provide more funding for mental health programmes and strengthen the review process for those under 21 trying to buy a gun. As notable as what is in the bill is what is not: no assault weapons ban, no universal background checks and no raising the age limit to buy a gun.

Despite the relatively meager changes, the proposal’s fate remains very much up in the air – with an ongoing debate about red flag laws and the so-called “boyfriend” loophole. The crowd’s reaction to all of that? “No gun controls!” they chanted at Cornyn. As for Crenshaw, he has refused to go along with unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and has been a staunch supporter of providing aid for Ukraine in its war against Russia (which first spurred Fox TV to call him “eye patch McCain”). The GOP base is also upset with his willingness to criticise some of the stars of the Trump brigade in the party.

What this weekend’s festivities in Texas make clear is that there is an active and ongoing effort to purge the Republican Party of anyone who criticizes Trump or his congressional allies in any way or seeks to break from rigid party orthodoxy on issues like guns. These criticisms are calling cards of Trump’s years leading the Republican Party: there’s no room for compromise or even conversation, it’s either this way or the other.

On Sunday, Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger said he received a letter in the mail that threatened to execute him, his wife and their newborn. “There is violence in the future, I’m going to tell you,” Kinzinger said. “And until we get a grip on telling people the truth, we can’t expect any differently.” Less than 24 hours later, Eric Greitens, a leading contender for the Republican Senate nomination in Missouri, released a new video in which he is depicted as hunting RINOs (Republicans in Name Only).

“I’m Eric Greitens, Navy SEAL, and today we’re going RINO hunting.” Greitens says as he walks down a sidewalk with a gun in hand. The video cuts to a house where Greitens, surrounded by what looks like a tactical unit, waits by the door. “The RINO feeds on corruption and is marked by the stripes of cowardice,” says Greitens. The unit smashes the door down and throws what looks like a smoke grenade. Greitens strides through the door. “Join the MAGA crew,” he says. “Get a RINO hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.” Given the extremely contentious nature of politics – not to mention the recent mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas – is it wise to post a video that shows the house of a political opponent being stormed by people with big guns? Second, the inherent message in Greitens’ video is that it’s acceptable for armed individuals to storm a private home because the person living there doesn’t agree with you on politics and policy.

What’s remarkable is that this isn’t a video posted by some fringe candidate who has no chance of winning and is desperate for attention. Quite the contrary. Greitens is seen as one of the top candidates in the Missouri GOP Senate field ahead of the August 2 primary. Greitens resigned as governor of the state in 2018 after a series of ethical lapses and accusations of sexual misconduct. He did not admit to any legal wrongdoing, and criminal charges against him were dropped. While Trump has yet to offer any endorsement in the race, Politico reported earlier this year that the former President is fond of Greitens.

What would prompt Greitens to post a video that’s, at best, irresponsible and at worst, outright dangerous? Because he believes it will work. Within three hours of being posted to Twitter, the video had already racked up more than one million views. Secondly, the negative attention Greitens gets for the video will be used by the candidate as proof to the Republican base that Democrats and the media are freaking out about him and his candidacy. “I’d be surprised if it took Greitens’ team more than 24 hours to turn the negative reaction to the video into a fundraising appeal”, said Cilazza.

Chriss says that the political system in the United States seems to be fundamentally broken. “It shouldn’t be a partisan debate that a video like the one Greitens posted Monday is beyond the pale.” But unfortunately, that’s exactly what it is.