None of this is particularly intimidating. It’s pitiful. What Trump is sacrificing amid these desperate efforts to cling to power is one of his best political assets: the perception that he is an effective pugilist in defense of what is his and, therefore, presumably a strong advocate for his constituents. That was only ever a matter of perception—Trump himself has confessed he’s more of a “whiner” than a fighter. But the president’s goal is to remain relevant within the party—a kingmaker ahead of 2022 and a resurgent force in 2024. The fiasco over which he presides only makes it easier for those Republicans who have to break from Trump and Trumpism to succeed him. Like the coup plotters, the Republicans mounting a hopeless last stand are sacrificing their legitimacy and honor in defense of a hill that is already overrun.
But that sort of tawdry politics can wait for another day. The impropriety of it all cannot and should not be ignored. Yes, Trump voters feel like it shouldn’t have gone this way. They think it doesn’t make any sense, and there is too much smoke in the air for there to be no fire somewhere—anywhere. But those feelings are the byproduct of a deliberate misinformation campaign. Far from being menaced by this subterfuge, Trump’s Democratic opponents can summon only embarrassment for the president.
There is no modern analog for the display Republicans are engaging in—no parallel to which the right can point and claim their actions are justified by the standards of decency Democrats violated long ago. This is new. And though it may soon become more dangerous than it is today, the flailing tantrum in which the president’s final phalanx is engaged isn’t frightening as much as it is pathetic.