In politics as in life, it’s often the unintended consequences that matter most. This has certainly been true of the first round of January 6 Committee hearings. It has, at every turn, revealed constitutional bulwarks that stood firm. And this was largely thanks to the integrity of state elected officials, most rank-and-file members of the Congress, the Executive Branch (especially the Justice Department and the vice president), the Judicial Branch, and the White House staff itself.
All of them combined to guarantee a lawful transfer of presidential power under the most arduous circumstances. The system worked and almost all of the people who made it work were Republican elective and appointive officials who stood up to a blustering, bullying but constitutionally-bound first executive who refused to believe that he had lost the 2020 election. Instead of facing reality, Donald Trump embarked upon a personal crusade and gathered a marginal clique of loony outsiders peddling unproven—and unprovable—conspiracy theories to inflame his hardcore supporters. Trump’s fantasy-based post-election behavior claiming to be the once-and-future president was hauntingly similar to that of Stacey Abrams, the failed Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate who still insists on fraudulently calling herself “Governor” Abrams. For some strange reason, Abrams has been given a free pass by most mainstream media.
Like many of the people who reluctantly voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 as the lesser of two evils, I did so with no illusions and only after being highly critical of him in the primaries. Trump, I argued, was neither a liberal Republican nor a conservative Republican: the man was a Banana Republican. However, once he was nominated, I felt that, unlike Hillary Clinton, he had not already disgraced himself in public office and espoused a range of irresponsible policies both foreign and domestic. I felt the same way about Joe Biden in 2020.
Trump had spent most of his time in the White House reveling in the superficial glitter of the office by day and tweeting twaddle long into the night. Meanwhile, the grown-ups on the White House staff, in the Federal departments and agencies, and the GOP leadership on Capitol Hill, had clawed back dubious, overreaching executive orders from the Obama years, followed sound economic policies that ushered in unmatched prosperity, avoided getting bogged down in new foreign entanglements, and presided over a revival of NATO by getting our European allies to shape up and pay their fair share.
It’s also worth noting that, under the Trump presidency, Vladimir Putin, who had felt free to grab Crimea in the Obama years and who wasted no time invading Ukraine once Joe Biden became commander-in-chief, was successfully contained by the gown-ups responsible for diplomacy, defense and national security in the Trump administration. And, of course, thanks to the input of mainstream conservative legal scholars, an impressive array of new judges, all the way up to the Supreme Court, were put in place to protect the Constitution for many years to come. The disgraceful chaos on our borders was also seriously addressed for the first time in generations.
All this changed once the 2020 ballots had been counted, recounted, and comprehensively certified. At this point, Trump parted company with his own presidency. He fired or ignored the advice of the able and honest conservatives who had made his presidential achievements possible and threw himself into the arms of the conspiracy theory nuts. By the time a small group of charlatans, true believers, and thugs forced their way into a shamefully under-protected Capitol—a few of them actually calling for the lynching of Vice President Mike Pence—even Donald Trump Jr. was declaring that his father “Has to condemn this sh--,” which Daddy Dearest never really did. When a very impressive Cassidy Hutchinson, senior aide to Trump’s semi-comatose last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, testified about the First Narcissist’s plate-hurling, tantrum-throwing, reality-denying final days in office to the committee on June 28, the best rejoinder Trump could come up with online was, “She is bad news.” Which she most certainly was for Donald Trump.
And this brings us to the biggest of all the unanticipated consequences of the January 6 investigation: the rapidly accelerating de-coupling of Trump from the Republican Party and the conservative movement. By a mixture of bluff and intimidation, Trump has hitherto played an oversized role—especially as covered by the mainstream media—in shaping the image of the post-election Republican Party. Candidates competed for his endorsement, even though the value of those endorsements is often dubious at best. And a number of promising potential GOP presidential hopefuls have felt constrained to defer to the Donald: As long as he says he may run again, they won’t; a deference born of fear, not loyalty. Now, more and more current GOP office holders and potential candidates appear to be waking up to the fact that the emperor has no clout, that he is a shrinking and decreasingly popular figure in the rearview mirror of history.
The day that the January 6 Committee held its latest—and most dramatic—hearing to date, the Washington Post carried a column by veteran political observer David von Drehle headlined, “DeSantis’s haymaker knocks out a few of Trump’s 2024 teeth.” The gist of it was that DeSantis, the popular Republican governor of Florida, a key swing state, “has no intention of asking for Trump’s endorsement in his reelection campaign.” That campaign shows every sign of being a winning one. It could position DeSantis as an early favorite for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. Von Drehle went on to describe the results of a recent poll of likely Republican voters in New Hampshire “that shows DeSantis in a virtual tie with Trump for the party’s presidential nomination – the kind of tie that happens when a rising balloon and a falling cinder block meet briefly as they pass going in opposite directions.” In the previous poll, Trump had trounced DeSantis “by more than 2 to 1.”
Far from crippling the GOP in November by distracting the public from the real current issues of inflation, looming recession, and a Democratic Party divided and adrift, presided over by an increasingly King Learish Joe Biden, the unintended consequence of the January 6 investigation may do just the opposite. It could reinvigorate the GOP brand as voters and candidates alike de-couple from the Cult of Trump and re-embrace sound, winning conservative principles. No one is probably happier about the work of the January 6 committee than Governors Glenn Youngkin and Ron DeSantis.
Aram Bakshian, Jr. served as an aide to Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, and has written extensively on politics, history, gastronomy, and the arts for American and overseas publications.