Editor’s Note: Michael D’Antonio is the author of the book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success” and co-author, with Peter Eisner, of the book “High Crimes: The Corruption, Impunity, and Impeachment of Donald Trump.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
Ever devoted to seeking power and attention, former President Donald Trump has announced he’ll hold a rally January 15 in Arizona, a key state where his allies used lies about widespread voter fraud to contest the 2020 election results.
And on the anniversary of the US capitol attack on January 6, he’ll dishonor the memory of those who died by holding a press conference pushing the lie that the violent insurrection was an “unarmed protest.” At a moment when the nation needs healing more than anything else, he seems determined to tear it apart.
As a president who survived two impeachment trials, Trump is following his uniquely disruptive and chaotic term in office with a determined effort to tighten his grip on the GOP and keep his supporters riled up. With the planned rally in Arizona, it appears Trump is testing whether he can spin his failed presidency in a way that will turn defeat into triumph, with what looks like an eye on the White House in 2024.
Trump lost the 2020 election by a resounding margin of 7 million votes. But unlike defeated presidents before him, who graciously accepted the will of the American people and ensured a smooth and peaceful transition of power, he created and continues to feed a movement devoted to himself by eroding public trust in our democracy. Along the way, he is trying to coerce the Republican Party to support his cause.
Trump’s effort has two key elements. The first is his scheme to consolidate his grip on the party by backing 2022 candidates who believe – or at least say they believe – his destructive fantasies. In Georgia, for example, he is retaliating against incumbent (Republican) governor Brian Kemp and secretary of state Brad Raffensperger for acknowledging President Joe Biden’s victory in the Peach State by endorsing Republican challengers against Kemp and Raffensperger in 2022. In Alaska, Trump is trying to unseat Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was one of seven Republicans in the upper chamber who voted to impeach him for inciting an insurrection after January 6. He’s also going after other Republicans and issuing endorsements earlier in the election cycle than he did as president, signaling an eagerness to continue reshaping the GOP in his own image.
The second element of Trump’s pursuit of power is his determined effort to sell the American people on his thoroughly discredited view of the 2020 election, which inspired his followers’ bloody attempt to overturn the results by attacking the US Capitol. Even Sen. Mitch McConnell blamed Trump for the attack on the US Capitol in February and said, “There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president and having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories and reckless hyperbole which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.” A year later, Trump still isn’t letting up, and even though he’s been banned from social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, he continues to draw on his usual methods including repetition, escalation and the stubborn denial of objective facts.
But the facts are clear, and there is no doubt Biden won the 2020 election and no evidence of widespread voter fraud. When it comes to his disingenuous legal bid to overturn the election results, Trump and his allies have lost more than 60 times, racking up a win in just one case that did not change the outcome and centered around the amount of time Pennsylvania voters had to fix errors on their mail-in ballots. Recounts and audits in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin also failed to find noteworthy fraud that would change the results. Indeed, all the demands for redress have only affirmed the Department of Homeland Security officials who said the 2020 election was the “most secure in American history.”
Thanks to Trump and those who support him, instead of celebrating the success of our democracy and the election officials who put country before party during a pandemic, America spent the last year arguing about his harebrained claims. It’s hard to overstate the deviance of Trump’s behavior, but one comparison is illustrative.
In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election win made Herbert Hoover a one-term president. Hoover congratulated FDR and publicly promised, “I wish for you a most successful administration. In the common purpose of all of us, I shall dedicate myself to every possible helpful effort.”
Trump, on the other hand, had a less gracious response to defeat. But despite the lack of evidence that the 2020 election was “stolen,” as he keeps insisting, a significant portion of Republicans are sticking by his side. According to the Pew Research Center, 67% of Republicans want Trump to maintain his presence in politics and 44% want him to run again in 2024.
The numbers say at least within his party, Trump’s playbook is still working. It suggests no matter what he decides to do in 2024, the country is in for more lies that attack voting and the very foundation of our civic life. The rhetoric, combined with Trump’s effort to see like-minded people gain public office, may mean there is no rest for democracy’s defenders in the foreseeable future.