What would Donald think?
It’s a question almost no-one has had to ask or answer for the last five years or so.
Thanks to the power of the White House and the unfiltered reach of his social media accounts, Donald J Trump‘s every thought, opinion, like or dislike — and there were a lot — seemed to be made known to hundreds of millions of followers, almost as soon as they occurred to him.
Out of office and ousted from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube — “de-platformed” is the inelegant tech description — the world has gone a week without a word. Not one. Anywhere on the public record.
If the silence isn’t striking enough, consider the contrast with the corresponding week in January last year.
That’s when the then-president set his own personal record with 142 Twitter messages in a single day.
Mostly he was brooding over the US Senate impeachment trial, which began hearing arguments the previous day on January 21, 2020.
So we know impeachment distresses him. Just because he’s stifled at the moment doesn’t mean Trump‘s any less agitated the second time around.
Even so, the former president can afford to relax. He’s no more likely to be convicted for “incitement of insurrection” in February than he was for abuse of power and obstruction a year ago.
Most Republicans remain loyal to Trump
The numbers are already in: 45 out of 50 Republican senators are still hanging tough for Trump.
At the first opportunity to try to halt the impeachment trial before it begins, all but five Senate Republicans took it.
Kentucky libertarian Rand Paul had cocked the trigger for what was a de facto vote in judgement of Trump‘s conduct between the election and the fateful sacking of their workplace on January 6.
Paul’s proposition was simply that the Senate has no place trying Trump.
“If the accused is no longer president, where is the constitutional power to impeach him?” he asked.
“Private citizens don’t get impeached. Impeachment is for removal from office and the accused here has already left office.”
Forty-five Republicans, including Leader Mitch McConnell were persuaded. The five Senators who voted with Democrats are either known Republican moderates or have already stated their belief that Trump committed impeachable offences.
They include Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins from Maine, avowed Trump critic Mitt Romney from Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey.
Presumably following events from afar in Florida, Trump could only draw comfort from this early test of the Senate’s will.
There’s every possibility the final vote at the end of the trial will be about the same, still a dozen votes short of the threshold 67 needed to convict (if all senators vote.)
A lot changed in US politics this last month. A lot remains the same
Such staunch Republican loyalty might seem inexplicable, considering most representatives and senators had themselves been victims in the sacking of the Capitol. They cowered in a protective crypt while marauding invaders shouted death threats in the corridors above.
McConnell, one of Trump‘s most steadfast and powerful allies on the hill, was as rattled as any. He immediately moved to distance himself in the hours and days that followed.
“The mob was fed lies,” McConnell told the Senate.
“They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”
Words count in politics. But votes count more, especially in a chamber evenly divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.
McConnell has freed his caucus to vote according to its conscience, not as a bloc, when a final verdict is to be delivered.
Yet at the first opportunity to show their disposition, 90 per cent of his team joined him in trying to shut down any trial.
The reason is obvious: Trump has left Washington, but his influence in the Republican party base hasn’t waned at all.
For all his missteps, Trump pulls in votes — 74 million of them — and has in the past helped pull in formidable amounts of money.
Strike out against him now, and Republicans risk losing their endorsement back home. Impeaching and convicting the former president might clear the conscience of Republicans troubled by his final antics but it could come at the cost of their seat in Congress.
Take Liz Cheney, the third most senior Republican in the House and daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, who was one of 10 Republicans who voted for Trump‘s second impeachment.
The then President didn’t like her to begin with, telling angry supporters in his so-called “insurrection speech” that “the Liz Cheneys of the world” need to be voted out.
In her home state of Wyoming, some are trying to do just that. She’s enduring full blowback, a slump in the polls and a surge of challengers threatening to run against her.
Trump down but not out
Trump‘s publicly mute at Mar-a-Lago, but there are early stirrings of movement down south.
First came vague, unsourced, suggestions that Ivanka Trump might make a run for public office in Florida, after buying a Miami mansion with husband Jared Kushner.
And then today it was revealed that Trump and another powerful Republican, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, met in Florida to discuss, among other things, “helping elect Republicans in the House and Senate in 2022”.
This week also saw the launch of the “Office of the Former President” in Palm Beach. It’s a standard taxpayer-funded facility extended to all former occupants of the White House, along with Secret Service protection and a pension.
Total output from the office in its first week consists only of a three-paragraph statement and a website domain.
But it hints that Trump has no intention of sinking quietly into post-political life.
The office will “carry on the agenda of the Trump Administration through advocacy organising, and public activism”, the statement declares.
“President Trump will always and forever be a champion for the American People.”
With vast reserves of his own money to spend, electoral influence and perhaps motivation to punish rogue Republicans like Cheney, Trump‘s days of campaigning are almost certainly not done.
We may not know exactly what he thinks right now, but his final remarks as president when leaving Washington did include a reminder that “I will be watching, I will be listening” — probably to every word of his Senate trial.
Biden starts work on his ambitious projects
When invited to comment publicly, he never endorsed it, only saying it was a matter for Congress to decide.
Pushing the trial back to February represented a win of sorts for the new President. The idea being that the first few weeks of his term could be used to install key members of Cabinet and his advisory team.
On that measure, the Biden administration machine is cranking successfully.
Secretaries are in at the Treasury, the Pentagon and the State Department. Others soon will be in Homeland Security, Energy and Transportation.
Bit by bit, the President is revealing the enormity of the projects captured by his campaign pledge to “Build Back Better.”
Orders are being placed for another 200 million coronavirus vaccine doses by around the middle of the year.
Urgency is being applied to negotiations on his $US1.5 trillion ($2.2 trillion) pandemic stimulus package.
Special climate envoy John Kerry has drawn the mud map for where he wants America and the world to go in cutting carbon.
He’s not just building on the Paris Accord that Trump pulled out of, but seeking a total revamp from a new starting position of net carbon neutrality by the middle of the century.
It’s ambitious, expensive and the risks of failure on any or all fronts are high, considering the scale of economic disruption wreaked by the virus.
Accomplishments, if they’re to come, will probably rely in some way on Biden‘s life’s work as a consensus negotiator.
Trump‘s trial will pass quickly and, in all likelihood, without conviction in February.
The trials of the Biden presidency will be more burdensome.