If the Republican Convention at Greenville in North Carolina was anything to go by, former US President Donald Trump had for sure fired up the right wing and the extremist crowd. Not many in the Grand Old Party (GOP) though are convinced that he provided the necessary fodder for the 2022 Congressional elections.
In fact, party stalwarts and sober-minded conservatives are wondering if the party is indeed heading in the right direction to take on the Democrats for control of the House of Representatives and Senate. Republicans need to win five seats in the House and one in the Senate to wrest back control of Congress — not an impossible task given that the party that controls the White House traditionally loses in a mid-term Congressional election.
That customary thinking might again get nowhere, like many others that were tossed aside in the Presidential election of 2020, if the GOP stands with Trump, his theatricals and far-fetched conspiracy theories that continue to be bandied about. It was evident in Trump’s 85-minute address to Republicans in Greenville where his supporters were ecstatic when he spoke about the last election being “stolen” from him and how November 3, 2020, may have been the worst ever in American history. In Trump’s view, the last Presidential contest was not only like a “third world” election, but that his loss to Joseph Biden was the “crime of the century”.
Repeating falsehoods that have been thrown out of courts, Trump told his cheering supporters: “Remember, I am not the one who is trying to undermine American democracy. I am the one who is trying to save it. What happened to this country in the last election is a disgrace.” Things have come to such a pass that some of Trump’s supporters nurse the view that the military could be involved to undo the damage done to the former President. In fact, at a recent QAnon conference in Dallas, Texas, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was asked about the February 1 coup in Myanmar. His response was: “… it should happen here”. Notably, Flynn, who in 2017 pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation on his communications with the Russia, was pardoned by Trump.
In what has been seen as a rambling speech in North Carolina, Trump also ripped into the present Democratic dispensation in Washington, accusing it of many things including charges on the racial front. “The Biden administration is pushing toxic critical race theory…into our nation’s schools… Joe Biden and the socialist Democrats are the most radical Democrats in our nation’s history,” Trump said. But what apparently brought his supporters to their feet was the former President’s statement that China should pay the United States US$ 10 trillions as reparations for COVID-19. He also egged on other nations to stall on their debts to China until such time they were also compensated. “The time has come for America and the world to demand reparations and accountability from the Communist Party of China. We should all declare with one unified voice that China must pay — they must pay,” Trump said.
For a person who does not seem to have a good handle on what he has said earlier, Trump forgets that he had lavished praise on Beijing and its leader Xi Jinping in January 2020 just when the first discussions had started on the virus in the US and the rest of the world. “China has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American people, I want to thank President Xi,” Trump had said on Twitter. The former President, who refused to take the virus seriously in the first crucial months, started attacking China virulently as the months rolled by and the death toll in US started getting into the tens of thousands. The coronavirus was then described by Trump as “China Virus” and “Kung Flu”; and today he accuses the Infectious Diseases Specialist Antony Fauci, who was one of the members of the Presidential Task Force on the virus, as being in denial of where the virus came from.
There is a spirited debate going on in the United States and other countries on the origin of the coronavirus— did it travel from bats to humans or was it a lab bio experiment that went awry. President Biden has tasked his intelligence agencies to get to the bottom of this in a three-month period. Beijing has all along maintained the wet markets theory of Wuhan. The Communist regime gets livid at the suggestion that the source of the virus that has killed more than 3.5 million people globally could be a laboratory in China. They hit back, saying the actual source could be a U.S. Army Biomedical Research facility in Maryland.“…the US doesn’t care about facts or truth at all, neither is it interested in a serious scientific study on the origins (of the coronavirus). Its only aim is to use the pandemic for stigmatization and political manipulation to shift the blame,” a Chinese official maintained.
Some Republican strategists are worried that in an anxiety to get behind Trump, the party may be losing touch with ground realities. Firstly, Trump may have got some 75 million votes in 2020, but he still came short of 7 million popular votes. Secondly, he convincingly lost the Electoral College. Thirdly, but for his hardcore backers, his popularity within the GOP is on the wane. Also, Trump’s powerful megaphones like Facebook and Twitter are no longer available and he voluntarily ended his short blogging stint as it was not popular. The sane Republican voices fear that re-hashing discredited theories of “fraudulent” polls or a “stolen” election may actually not turn out beneficial but counter-productive. Republicans, the argument goes, need a policy agenda, not worn out rhetorics.
Meanwhile, President Biden appears to be scoring points on many fronts: the economy is looking up; unemployment figures are down; deaths and infections from the coronavirus appear to be on a downward spiral; more than 50 per cent of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine; the coronavirus stimulus package of US$ 1.6 Trillion has been a huge success; and the proposed US$ 2 Trillion plus Infrastructure plan is making the right noises in the population. With expected government spending in such areas as health care and education, President Biden may position the Democrats—Progressives included — well in the Congressional elections of November 2022 and perhaps even beyond.
A former senior journalist in Washington covering North America and United Nations, the writer is currently a Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication in the College of Science and Humanities at SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Chennai.