Trump is gone, a political pariah — but with influence

Trump is gone, a political pariah — but with influence
© Getty Images

After Richard Nixon left office, Congressman Barber Conable, one of the most influential Republicans at the time and a leading legislative ally of the White House, was furious at what Nixon had done to the party and the country. “I hate the bastard,” he wrote in his diary and never spoke to Nixon again.

That's how Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellNAACP president presses senators on voting rights: 'You will decide who defines America' Sununu says he skipped Senate bid to avoid being 'roadblock' to Biden for two years 'All or nothing' won't bolster American democracy: Reform the filibuster and Electoral Count Act MORE and more than a few congressional Republicans feel about Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE.

Post-presidency Nixon was a political pariah, but not a substantive one. Trump may be the polar opposite.


Usually on Inauguration Day of a new president, his predecessor rides quietly into the sunset. Trump, with a typical lack of decency and decorum, is skipping Joe BidenJoe BidenMadame Tussauds unveils new Biden and Harris figures US raises concerns about Russian troop movements to Belarus Putin tests a model for invading Ukraine, outwitting Biden's diplomats MORE's inaugural. He doesn't ride quietly anywhere.

While celebrating a new era, the political world — especially Republicans — are vigorously debating whether Trump is a spent force or will remain a disruptive figure.

Ever since the mob assault on the Capitol and ensuing second House impeachment, Trump may be a permanent loser. His poll ratings have dropped, and businesses are running away from anything associated with the Trump brand.

Unlike the lonely figure of Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyShame on Biden for his Atlanta remarks — but are we surprised? The Memo: Blame game intensifies over nation's divide ​​Democrats make voting rights push ahead of Senate consideration MORE in the last Senate trial, this time there likely will be other Republicans voting to convict. The minority leader, Mitch McConnell, will make a simple calculation: Does a conviction help or hurt Republican Senate candidates in 2022? I still think, chiefly due to fear of primary challenges, there won't be sufficient Republican votes to meet the necessary two-thirds.

Even many of those Republicans opposing impeachment condemn Trump's actions and character. There almost certainly will be more damaging stuff coming out, with multiple investigations and tell-all revelations from former Trumpites trying to salvage their reputations.

Trump likely now faces federal as well as a New York state criminal investigation. Charges, trials and a possible conviction loom large in any future political role.

Yet... In the House last week 197 out of 207 Republican members voted against impeaching a president who incited a mob to storm the United States Capitol to impede the legitimate official validation of a national election.

Already Senate Republicans like Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOvernight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation Senators to meet with Ukraine president to reaffirm US support JD Vance raises more than million in second fundraising quarter for Ohio Senate bid MORE of Ohio say the deciding factor in any impeachment conviction is whether to “help heal our country rather than deepen our divisions.” That sounds like a predicate for justifying ‘Yeah he's terrible, but let's move on.’ Polls and focus groups show the vast majority of Republicans oppose impeachment.

Around America the Trump political force remains potent.

The Arizona Republican Party, dominated by Trump supporters, is moving to read the late John McCainJohn Sidney McCainKelly takes under-the-radar approach in Arizona Senate race Voting rights, Trump's Big Lie, and Republicans' problem with minorities Sinema, Manchin curb Biden's agenda MORE and his widow, Cindy, out of the party. McCain was the most successful Republican politician in the history of the state; since his death, the party has lost two U.S. Senate seats and went for Biden in November.


There are Republican officials around the country clinging to the ridiculous and discredited claim that Trump actually won the November election.

There are few parallels to the Nixon post-presidency. Republican politicians tried to avoid the mere mention of Nixon’s name; he was a political recluse.

But he also wrote ten books after he was forced out of office and was consulted, privately, on policy and political insights. When Ronald Reagan was embroiled in a scandal over clandestinely trying to trade arms for hostages, Republican strategist John Sears visited Nixon, who observed: “Reagan can just deny he knew anything,” adding, “I didn't have that option.”

He would hold forth for hours before editorial boards offering a global tour de force. Journalists were invited to his Saddle River, N.J. home for background dinners arranged by dirty trickster Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneDemocrats differ over how Biden should handle Jan. 6 anniversary Alex Jones suing Pelosi and Jan. 6 panel, planning to plead the Fifth Photos of the Week: Tornado aftermath, Medal of Honor and soaring superheroes MORE. My wife and I were on one invite list; the former president vetoed me.

He was consulted by presidents, including Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonCould the coming 'red wave' election become a 'red tsunami'? Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket A year into his presidency, Biden is polling at an all-time low MORE. When Nixon died in 1994, it was Clinton who insisted on a state funeral at which he spoke.

No matter how many years pass, I can't imagine any Democratic president speaking at Donald Trump's funeral.

Unlike Nixon, however, Trump still commands a fervent following. Those supporters who were in it for tax cuts or deregulation will move on. But he still has the much larger contingent of racists and haters — those who mobbed the Capitol — as well as non-racists who feel threatened by modernity, that their America is passing them by. “Many non-college white Americans who have been undergoing what psychiatrists call ‘involuntary subordination’ or ‘involuntary defeat’ both resent and mourn the loss of centrality and what they perceive as their growing invisibility,” writes Tom Edsall in the New York Times.

This strikes fear in some Republican office holders that Trump has the capacity to turn that on them, as he has threatened to do. That's much more serious than the chance he'll be the Republican nominee in 2024.

As for me, an anti-Trumper since well before 2016, after 1,461 days, our long national nightmare is over.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.