After the Capitol siege, what is the future for Trumpism?

Election 2020

The U.S Capitol siege nears its end as the sun sets. Photo: Kuba Wuls

It may have been the mixture of fear and adrenaline.

Watching the police dispersing Donald Trump’s supporters from the Capitol with flash grenades and tear gas last week my mind wandered to my very first visit to the U.S to cover the 2008 election.

My first assignment was a Sarah Palin rally in Florida.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s running mate for the vice-presidency was the embodiment of the nascent Tea Party, intent on forcing the old guard into a more right-0wing agenda.

Palin and her surrogates whipped up supporters to yell: “Barack Hussein Obama” so they could fuel the false claim that the president to be was Muslim – a precursor to the debunked theories about his citizenship that Trump adopted.

I was new to U.S politics but the fervor of the crowd in Fort Myers was nevertheless unlike anything I’d ever seen.

But both the tone and messages would be eclipsed so often during the Trump presidency that in retrospect Palin’s rally now seems somehow quaint compared with the defiant mob in front of me that had stormed Congress.

I’ve spent much of the last four years and especially the weeks since election night wondering just how much Trump has reshaped conservatism beyond what even those Tea Party radicals had in mind and, after Brexit and the rise of authoritarian governments from Brazil to Poland, beyond the United States.

In the last days of the Trump presidency, we had an answer: thousands of Trump supporters backed a minority of seditionists who violently, but unsuccessfully tried to stop Biden becoming the next president.

Many I talked to didn’t condone the deadly rampage in the seat of U.S democracy, but they both tossed the words civil war around rather easily or artfully tried to suggest those Confederate flags and Trump banners were carried by Antifa and other left-wing counter protestors.

And it was clear that even those peaceful supporters wanted a revolution to sweep away both Democrats and establishment Republicans they think failed them because they refused to overturn a legitimate election.

Our security team made back of postage stamp calculations about the crowds – primarily to work out some sort of odds when it was clear the protest was becoming something far more sinister.

But they were also skeptical that the Capitol siege was representative: out of more than 74 million who voted for Trump, here were merely thousands and among them, only hundreds willing to pursue a violent insurrection.

And yet ironically, for a president who constantly misrepresented crowd sizes, Trump finally had some shocking numbers for the whole world to witness.

It must also say something that even some political experts who’ve been following the Republicans far longer than me think Trump’s impact is profound – partly because his polling numbers have been consistently too strong for the Republican party to ignore.

And we’re likely to find out what kind appetite voters have for Trumpism soon enough.

Even before the midterm congressional elections of 2022 and the presidency two years after that, there are even two special elections in Louisiana in March.

Plenty of lawmakers are ready to carry Trump’s torch if he doesn’t or can’t follow through on his pledge to stand as president again – Republican Senator Ted Cruz one of the most senior politicians to continue opposing Biden’s certification even after the Capitol was stormed.

Is it possible the tone and messages for those campaigns will soon look tame compared to whatever follows?