Trump Chaos Peaks: First ‘I Need 11,000 Votes,’ Then a Riot
(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump enters the final 11 days of his presidency more isolated and besieged than ever, having survived the worst week of his tenure with his grip on the Republican Party weakened, renewed calls for his impeachment in Congress and his Twitter account shut down.
A seven-day stretch that began with a call demanding Georgia officials help overturn the state’s election -- “Fellas, I need 11,000 votes,” Trump said -- crescendoed with him inciting a mob toward the nation’s Capitol, an attack that left five people dead and prompted two cabinet members and other senior officials to resign.
Now Trump -- who survived a special counsel probe, an impeachment saga and outrage over his treatment of immigrants at the border -- has the most tenuous hold on power of his four years in office. He has dominated the political landscape in America for more than five years, but what happens in the next two weeks could shape Trump’s legacy more than anything that came before.
In that time, he must stem the exodus of officials from his administration, stamp out talk of his cabinet secretaries invoking the 25th amendment to remove him from power and face the specter of a possible second impeachment proceeding, after which history would record him as the only president to be impeached twice.
He also faces the threat of a raft of legal challenges once he loses the protection of his office, and must weigh whether to issue a last-minute flood of pardons, perhaps even one for himself -- an unprecedented move that would ignite further outrage.
In perhaps the most damaging personal blow to a man who harnessed social media to fuel his unlikely rise to the presidency, Trump found himself permanently banned from Twitter. The social network has served as his megaphone to the masses since he rose to fame in right-wing circles for questioning then-President Barack Obama’s birth certificate nearly a decade ago.
Trump late Friday attempted to skirt the ban, posting first to the official White House account and then to his campaign account, but was thwarted.
Donald Trump Jr, the president’s oldest son, posted a video to social media Saturday asserting that “it’s a sad day when Big Tech has more power than Big Government.” He encouraged Trump fans to go to his website to register for updates: “I’ll let you know where I end up, where my father ends up.”
Republicans who long resisted criticizing a president who held an iron grip on his supporters feel more free to speak out, furious at the week’s events and the trajectory of their political fortunes since Trump took office in 2017 with the GOP controlling both houses of Congress. Now, the White House and Senate are poised to join the House of Representatives in Democratic hands when Joe Biden takes office Jan. 20.
The casualties extended into Trump’s cabinet. The secretaries of transportation and education resigned over the riots while Trump’s most loyal ally, Vice President Mike Pence, broke with him by refusing to try to stand in the way of Biden’s win. Lower-level White House staffers also headed for the doors.
Democrats were emboldened. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the nation’s top military officer assured her that safeguards are in place in case Trump seeks to initiate a nuclear strike or other military conflict. She’s weighed backing efforts to submit articles of impeachment against Trump -- who she called “unhinged” -- as early as Monday.
Trump, who had vowed to his supporters at a Wednesday morning rally to never concede the November election, found himself doing just that a day later.
“A new administration will be inaugurated on Jan. 20th,” he said in a video posted on Twitter on Thursday, before his account was suspended. “My focus now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power.”
But he soon returned to his defiant form.
Hours after promising a smooth transition, Trump sent out another tweet that seemed to affirm he had no intention of fading away.
“The 75,000,000 great American Patriots who voted for me, AMERICA FIRST, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, will have a GIANT VOICE long into the future,” Trump tweeted. “They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape or form!!!”
Yet while Trump’s base of support has proved resilient to years of scandals and crises, the president’s chances of running in the 2024 election seemed to have been dealt a serious blow.
The Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial board, generally a supporter of the president, called on him to resign and said his actions amounted to an impeachable act. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has clashed with Trump in the past, said he should resign and warned she might leave the Republican Party if it remains lashed to the outgoing president.
“I want him out,” she told the Anchorage Daily News on Friday. “He has caused enough damage.”
The siege of the Capitol left many other Republicans, including people who had been among Trump’s most loyal supporters, disillusioned and despairing that what they had accomplished was forever marred by the violence.
“We had something to show for the four years. Now all we’ve got is an association with somebody who’s tied to an insurrection against a government on one of its most important days,” Trump’s former chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney said in a Bloomberg Radio interview on Thursday. “And that’s not a happy place to be, there’s no question.”
But there are signs that while Republican leaders in Washington may have turned on Trump, no small number of his core supporters -- those who stood by him through the scandals and were in the vanguard of the rioters who broke into the Capitol -- remain loyal. Video posted on social media on Friday showed Trump supporters swarming Senator Lindsey Graham, surrounded by security guards, at Reagan National Airport outside Washington, heckling him as a “traitor.”
Graham, once a loyalist himself, broke with Trump on Wednesday after the riot and refused to stand in the way of congressional certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory.
While thousands of National Guard and other law enforcement agents secured the Capitol and Washington following the protests, many in the nation’s capital worried more turmoil is coming. In banning Trump, Twitter said the president’s posts appeared to be encouraging those who believe, erroneously, that he won the November election.
“Plans for future armed protests have already begun proliferating on and off-Twitter, including a proposed secondary attack on the U.S. Capitol and state capitol buildings on January 17, 2021,” Twitter wrote.
If the week’s events had chastened Trump, it didn’t last.
In his final statement on Twitter before he was banned by the platform, the president -- whose ethos has long been to punch back harder at opponents, never apologize and demand utter loyalty from aides -- shot down any speculation that he would attend his successor’s inauguration on Jan. 20, as presidents have done for decades.
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