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Trump is gone, a political pariah — but with influence

After Richard Nixon left office, Congressman Barber Conable, one of the most influential Republicans at the time and a leading legislative ally of the White House, was furious at what Nixon had done to the party and the country. “I hate the bastard,” he wrote in his diary and never spoke to Nixon again.

That’s how Mitch McConnell and more than a few congressional Republicans feel about Donald Trump.

Post-presidency Nixon was a political pariah, but not a substantive one. Trump may be the polar opposite.

Usually on Inauguration Day of a new president, his predecessor rides quietly into the sunset. Trump, with a typical lack of decency and decorum, is skipping Joe Biden’s inaugural. He doesn’t ride quietly anywhere.

While celebrating a new era, the political world — especially Republicans — are vigorously debating whether Trump is a spent force or will remain a disruptive figure.

Ever since the mob assault on the Capitol and ensuing second House impeachment, Trump may be a permanent loser. His poll ratings have dropped, and businesses are running away from anything associated with the Trump brand.

Unlike the lonely figure of Mitt Romney in the last Senate trial, this time there likely will be other Republicans voting to convict. The minority leader, Mitch McConnell, will make a simple calculation: Does a conviction help or hurt Republican Senate candidates in 2022? I still think, chiefly due to fear of primary challenges, there won’t be sufficient Republican votes to meet the necessary two-thirds.

Even many of those Republicans opposing impeachment condemn Trump’s actions and character. There almost certainly will be more damaging stuff coming out, with multiple investigations and tell-all revelations from former Trumpites trying to salvage their reputations.

Trump likely now faces federal as well as a New York state criminal investigation. Charges, trials and a possible conviction loom large in any future political role.

Yet… In the House last week 197 out of 207 Republican members voted against impeaching a president who incited a mob to storm the United States Capitol to impede the legitimate official validation of a national election.

Already Senate Republicans like Rob Portman of Ohio say the deciding factor in any impeachment conviction is whether to “help heal our country rather than deepen our divisions.” That sounds like a predicate for justifying ‘Yeah he’s terrible, but let’s move on.’ Polls and focus groups show the vast majority of Republicans oppose impeachment.

Around America the Trump political force remains potent.

The Arizona Republican Party, dominated by Trump supporters, is moving to read the late John McCain and his widow, Cindy, out of the party. McCain was the most successful Republican politician in the history of the state; since his death, the party has lost two U.S. Senate seats and went for Biden in November.

There are Republican officials around the country clinging to the ridiculous and discredited claim that Trump actually won the November election.

There are few parallels to the Nixon post-presidency. Republican politicians tried to avoid the mere mention of Nixon’s name; he was a political recluse.

But he also wrote ten books after he was forced out of office and was consulted, privately, on policy and political insights. When Ronald Reagan was embroiled in a scandal over clandestinely trying to trade arms for hostages, Republican strategist John Sears visited Nixon, who observed: “Reagan can just deny he knew anything,” adding, “I didn’t have that option.”

He would hold forth for hours before editorial boards offering a global tour de force. Journalists were invited to his Saddle River, N.J. home for background dinners arranged by dirty trickster Roger Stone. My wife and I were on one invite list; the former president vetoed me.

He was consulted by presidents, including Bill Clinton. When Nixon died in 1994, it was Clinton who insisted on a state funeral at which he spoke.

No matter how many years pass, I can’t imagine any Democratic president speaking at Donald Trump’s funeral.

Unlike Nixon, however, Trump still commands a fervent following. Those supporters who were in it for tax cuts or deregulation will move on. But he still has the much larger contingent of racists and haters — those who mobbed the Capitol — as well as non-racists who feel threatened by modernity, that their America is passing them by. “Many non-college white Americans who have been undergoing what psychiatrists call ‘involuntary subordination’ or ‘involuntary defeat’ both resent and mourn the loss of centrality and what they perceive as their growing invisibility,” writes Tom Edsall in the New York Times.

This strikes fear in some Republican office holders that Trump has the capacity to turn that on them, as he has threatened to do. That’s much more serious than the chance he’ll be the Republican nominee in 2024.

As for me, an anti-Trumper since well before 2016, after 1,461 days, our long national nightmare is over.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags 2024 presidential campaign Biden inauguration Bill Clinton Donald Trump Inauguration Joe Biden John McCain Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Politics of the United States Republican Party Richard Nixon Rob Portman Roger Stone Senate Republicans Trump base Trump legacy

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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