In an effort to set up the Republican Party for long-term success, he has magnified intraparty tensions.
Wednesday’s decision by Facebook’s oversight board to uphold former United States President Donald Trump’s suspension from the site highlighted the reality he faces these days: it is hard to sustain a political revolution without a megaphone.
The reaction to the decision, which forces Facebook to figure out in the next six months whether Trump should be permanently banned, did not result in a Trump-fuelled firestorm, mainly because he lacks the tools to ignite one.
Calling Facebook’s decision a “total disgrace” in an emailed press release, the reaction to the decision was limited to elected Republicans and Trump supporters hitting the airwaves and Twitter to lambast Facebook.
Without the trappings of the White House – access to the media, a spokesperson, staff willing to talk to reporters – and without an immediate way to communicate via social media, what four months ago would likely have been a dynamic days-long Trump grievance garnering much attention has turned into a static response with little influence outside his sphere of Republican elected officials.
Since leaving office and being silenced on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, Trump has taken to emailing statements several times a week to the press (compared with his former output of several tweets per day) to weigh in on what is grinding his gears. The lack of urgency of his messages, combined with the limited scope of recipients – the media along with inside the Beltway types – and his disappearance from the public eye have resulted in very little action or reaction to his musings outside of elected Republicans.
On Tuesday, Trump’s team launched an effort to expand the reach of those missives, posting them on his website in blog form with the ability for followers to tweet or share each individual message on Facebook and Twitter – a sort of second-hand and much less personal blasting of his thoughts.
It remains to be seen how much of a game-changer that new effort is, but for the moment, it is clear that while Trump’s current method of communication is not a megaphone, it is at least working as a microphone that is being heard by Capitol Hill Republicans. Just ask Representative Liz Cheney.
After Trump’s refusal to concede the election and his insistence that it was rigged culminated in his supporters’ violent riot at the US Capitol, some Republicans announced they had enough, among them Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney and currently the number three Republican in House GOP leadership.
Every Republican that spoke out against Trump faced his wrath, prompting a few, like McCarthy, to reverse course and work overtime to get back into Trump’s good graces.
A small number of Republicans, such as Cheney, have continued calling Trump out for supporting what she says is “The Big Lie” about a “rigged” election, despite his incessant insulting criticisms. Her anti-Trump rhetoric has resulted in a likely soon-to-be mutiny, with rank-and-file Republicans, egged on by Trump, demanding her removal from leadership. McCarthy was caught on a hot mic saying he has “had it” with Cheney and the number two House Republican, Steve Scalise, publicly endorsed Representative Elise Stefanik to replace Cheney.
For his part, Trump posted a statement on Wednesday slamming Cheney, claiming she “continues to unknowingly and foolishly say that there was no Election Fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election” before endorsing Stefanik.
President Joe Biden was asked on Wednesday what he makes of all of the Republican infighting. He acknowledged that his own Democratic Party has seen their share of infighting in the past, although not to the levels the GOP is facing.
“The Republican Party is trying to identify what it stands for and is in the midst of a significant, sort of mini-revolution,” Biden told reporters.
“Mini-revolution” is an interesting choice of words.
In a sense, it is a “revolution” in that establishment Republicans like Cheney are being overthrown, shunned, insulted or are simply retiring. And, in a sense, it is “mini” on account of the fuel for all of this – Trump’s instigating – is a shadow of what it once was.
Yet as long as Trump remains popular among the GOP base – 81 percent favourability in an Economist-YouGov poll conducted from April 25 to 27 – and his elected backers continue to have an outsized influence on the party, the so-called “revolution” will go on, no matter how “mini” Trump’s voice may be at the moment.