It’s been nearly two months since rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. in a failed attempt to overturn former President Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election. The violence left five people dead and more than a hundred injured.
An impeachment trial in the senate failed to convict Trump for any role in the events on January 6, 2021. But, this week on Capitol Hill hearings began to examine the security breakdowns that failed to prevent the siege.
To get perspective on how historians will view the attack on the Capitol, and the impact that it might have on Donald Trump’s political future, Connecting Point’s Ray Hershel spoke with Western New England University History Professor John Baick.
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Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: It’s been nearly two months since rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. in a failed attempt to overturn former President Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election. The violence left five people dead and more than 100 injured.
While an impeachment trial in the Senate failed to convict Trump for any role in the events on January sixth, on Capitol Hill this week, hearings began to examine the security breakdowns that failed to prevent the siege. To get perspective on how historians will view the attack on the capital and the impact that it might have on Donald Trump’s political future, Connecting Point’s Ray Hershel spoke with Western New England University history professor John Back.
Professor John Baick, Western New England University: It’s going to come down to how you see him as a person, how you see him as a movement. For mainstream historians, they’re going to see him as someone who posed a fundamental threat to American democracy itself, someone that the founders were worried about, frankly, someone who could subvert democracy for his own ends.
Whereas for other people, they will see him as the rightfully elected president. They will never see him, as he would say, as a loser. He is someone for whom a great injustice was done. And there will be people who will take on Trump like a lost cause for years to come.
Ray Hershel, Connecting Point: Now, President Trump was impeached twice, as we all know. And he was acquitted on both those impeachments. After the second acquittal, Mitch McConnell said that Donald Trump something to the effect that hasn’t gotten away with anything yet. And he emphasized the word yet. He said it twice. What was McConnell telling us then?
Professor John Baick: That he’s trying to have it both ways. That Mitch McConnell, who could have at least tried to reconvene the Senate before the end of the last administration, who, according to his own words after the acquittal, said that Trump was guilty, is trying to say “hello, history. Trump was guilty. Hello, Republicans, going forward, let’s get rid of him.” But at the same time, not allowing members of his party to be exposed to the wrath of Trump and the wrath of Trump’s followers.
He’s going to try to have it both ways. And in some ways, this won’t work. But McConnell has been really good at this for a long time. The era that we are living in now, in some respects, is the era of Mitch McConnell and his ability to deal with these kinds of contradictions and hypocrisies and paradoxes, explains his power. He’s not going away any time soon, either.
Ray Hershel: With President Trump’s acquittal the second time, what questions arise now with regard to legal issues facing the former president now that he’s out of office? Do his legal problems just begin in another whole realm for him?
Professor John Baick: Sure. But this is something that has defined him for the last half century. His business practices are all about not just skirting the edge of law, but pushing right past it. For things is trivial, although not to those involved, as not paying his contractors and workers to those about assault charges and real serious problems with business practices. He has simply always just thrown lawyers at them.
Remember that the most important person to understand Donald Trump may be his father, but I think Roy Cohn. This famous bare knuckle brawler of a lawyer back in the 1950s, he is someone who showed Trump, as long as you keep fighting, there’s a way to keep moving forward. It’s not about loss, not about public opinion. It’s about just fighting and getting dirty.
Ray Hershel: President Trump has indicated — or former President Trump has indicated — that he might seek another term in office in 2024. Is this a realistic scenario in your mind? And would you see or do you see a path for President Trump if he does intend to run again?
Professor John Baick: I absolutely see a path forward for him. The question is whether he really wants this.
One of the strange things to think about was that back in 2015 and 2016, very few people, including then-candidate Trump, thought he would win. His goal really wasn’t to win. It was to upend the Republican Party and to make himself a kingmaker. What he saw for himself after 2016 was a close election. He would contest it. He would then be a media titan. He would be the person that Republicans would have to come to Trump Tower.
What we’re going to see for the next few years, what we’ve already seen, is that Mar-a-Lago becomes one of the centers of conservative politics going forward. And perhaps the word conservative is wrong. It’s Republican politics. Trump is not conservative. He’s not liberal. He is his own brand.
And some some viewers, well they don’t remember this personally, but a guy named William McKinley back in 1896 ran a front porch campaign where people came to listen to him. What we’re going to see for the next few years as people coming to Mar-a-Lago. Political supplicants, political rivals, media figures, and Republican politics will be centered in Florida in a way that is just going to be strange to see.
I don’t think he’s going to be the nominee, but I know that he will have a huge part in shaping who that person might be unless McConnell and people like Liz Cheney can get their way. And that seems less and less likely.
Ray Hershel, Connecting Point: You know, we got the midterm elections coming up in 2022. What are the midterms going to tell us in terms of Donald Trump’s hold still on the Republican Party? Will the midterms tell us? Will it be a referendum on how Joe Biden is doing as president? What is your anticipation for midterms which haven’t been particularly kind to the incumbent president once he is elected?
Professor John Baick, Western New England University: Yeah, I think the number is something like 19 out of the last 21 midterm elections that the president’s party loses votes. This is seems stacked pretty much against Democrats, not just because of the historical precedent, but because of the redistricting that will take place with the census results. One estimate says that Republicans will safely pick up seven seats just because of redistricting.
It’s very likely — not guaranteed — that the Republicans take back power. And the question is, who will claim responsibility? Will this be McConnell again? Will this be Trump? Will this be both? Or will the two of them collide in such a way that we have a repeat of Georgia? It seems unbelievable, not just the January siege, but the events of the day before for Republicans to lose two Senate seats to two Democrats, to outsiders, a Jewish candidate and an African-American candidate. That should not have happened. If the Republicans had run a halfway competent campaign, they would have taken one or both of those seats.
So there is a chance that McConnell and Trump can cancel each other out. If those two worked together, things might be different. But McConnell clearly wants to turn the page. Trump delivered the taxes, he delivered the judges, but he also delivered chaos. And in the long term, it’s bad news for the Republican Party.