Opinion: Trump Returns to the Scene of the Crime—and the GOP Cheers

Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters
Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

It is not easy to go from betraying a state to being welcomed back into its capital.

Jefferson Davis avoided Washington, DC after the Civil War. It took until 1978 for him to have his citizenship restored by the US Congress.

Hitler realized that after the Beer Hall Putsch in November 1923 that if he was ever to gain power in Germany he would have to do so via elections. After his release from prison, he worked to make his party palatable to the public but did not achieve major success until elections seven years after his failed coup attempt. He did not become chancellor, officially accepted again among Germany’s political leaders, until fully a decade after he attempted to overthrow his government.

Republicans Call Bull-Schlitz on Trump’s Milwaukee Hate

These guys could have learned a thing or two from Donald Trump—a man who has celebrated many of the core ideas championed by Davis and Hitler. On Thursday of this week, 1254 days since his own failed attempted coup, Donald Trump returned, in the words of former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, “to the scene of (his) crime.”

There on Capitol Hill, Trump continued the work of the mob he incited that January day in the wake of his crushing election defeat. Like the thugs and losers he urged to attack the Congress, some of whom as it happened carried Confederate flags or ones based on the Nazi swastika, Trump debased the seat of American democracy with his presence, with his words, and perhaps most shockingly of all, with the enthusiastic assistance of virtually the entire Republican Party delegations to the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. (Note: The Republican Party once actually led opposition to Davis and the Confederacy. But that was long, long ago.)

Republicans, some of whom cowered to avoid the Jan. 6 mob or who scampered away to avoid becoming their victims, were victimized by Trump in a different way during the presumptive GOP presidential nominee’s visit to the Capitol. After having led an assault that put many of them in peril, Trump demonstrated his control over the party and the complete lack of character of virtually all of its members, by demanding that they publicly bend the knee before him. They slavered. They sang his praises. They collectively sought to wash away his sins in one of those most repugnant displays of public ass-kissing in American history.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader who condemned Trump after January 6th, laying the blame for the attempted insurrection at his feet, called the Senate GOP meeting with Trump “entirely positive.”

Florida GOP Representative Matt Gaetz called the events on the Hill “a pep rally for President Trump.” Ralph Norman of South Carolina praised Trump for covering a wide range of issues saying afterwards “That’s the most energized I’ve ever seen him.”

Trump for his own part posed and tried to look like a party unifier, even shaking hands with sometime nemesis McConnell. Needless to say, Trump being Trump, he could not contain his worst impulses. The 34-time convicted felon lashed out at the Justice Department in true Hollywood gangster fashion calling them “dirty, no-good bastards.” And, like the January 6th rioters, he left a stinking mess for his party to clean up when he called Milwaukee, which will host the Republican Convention at which he expects to be renominated as his party’s candidate, “a horrible city.”

As Cavalier Johnson, the Mayor of Milwaukee said in response “Right back at ya, buddy… To insult the largest city in the state when you’re running for president is perplexing…bizarre & unhinged.”

But his party followers dutifully fulfilled the role they played all day and will likely play from now through the election day by attempting to explain away the gaffe (with wildly conflicting explanations for the statement. Indeed, today’s events on Capitol Hill combined with Trump’s erratic persona and the political challenges that await the GOP that is choosing to run a twice-impeached felon who has been found by courts to liable for rape and fraud as its standard bearer offer a preview of what we can expect the main job for Republican office holders will be in the five months between now and the election.

They will be likely be spending so much time doing clean up on aisle 45, that they ought to consider changing their party’s symbol from the elephant to the rows of men and women who follow the elephant with brooms attempting to hide the messes he has made and will make.

Thursday’s visit to the Capitol may have been unprecedented, but it is as significant for the insight into what lies ahead during campaign 2024. Not only is Trump’s record historically awful for any candidate for office in the U.S. (or anywhere else for that matter), but he is likely to compound his crimes and his errors and the manifold glimpses we have had into his defective character with new mistakes and controversies.

The GOP and even Trump are so cognizant of this fact (smarting as they are from the ridicule generated by his now infamous and certifiably bonkers Sharks and batteries speech of a few days ago) that following his visit to the Capitol, Trump did not take questions from the press, wrapping the events of the day up with just five minutes of stumbling platitudes.

In just two weeks, Trump is scheduled to debate Trump (although some Democratic strategists doubt he will show up given how unhinged Trump appears to be these days and how likely it is that Biden will give him a big time public spanking). If he does take part in the debate, many of those who feted him on the Hill this week will be forced into spinning Trump’s dross into something that does not turn their looming defeat in November into a landslide loss. (Note: Biden continues to gain in reputable polls post Trump’s conviction.)

Following the debate, Trump may be faced with a loss at the Supreme Court in his quest for immunity from prosecution. Days later, on July 10, he will face sentencing in New York on his 34 felony convictions. A few days after that he will receive a very likely mixed welcome at the GOP convention in the city he disparaged on Thursday.

Other trial setbacks loom that will both remind the public that Trump is a serial criminal and will force Republicans to somehow pretend that embracing an insurrectionist in a way that Jeff Davis and Adolf Hitler could only have dreamt of was somehow a good idea and not a sign that the GOP has jumped the shark and ended its useful life as part of America’s political scene.

With each setback, with each gaffe, with the meltdowns from Trump they will likely trigger, the GOP will have to gather in cover-up formation as they did on Thursday. But going forward their job will somehow become even harder than the Thursday’s task of seeking to expunge the memory of Trump’s manifold missteps, errors, crimes, accused crimes and other ugly episodes. Somehow, they will have to not only do that but get the one group whose opinion really matters—the voters—to join them in absolving the sins of the most corrupt national political leader in U.S. history.

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