Six weeks ago, Americans were assured that Donald Trump had left the presidency disgraced and forever ruined politically.
Trump was the first president to be impeached twice, and first to be tried as a private citizen when out of office. He was the first to be impeached without the chief justice of the United States presiding over his trial.
His nonstop complaining about a stolen “landslide” election was blamed by many as a distraction that lost two Republican Senate seats from Georgia. The current Democratic-majority Congress was the result.
Americans were assured by Trump’s impeachment prosecutors and the media that the Jan. 6 Capitol assault was his fault alone. So Trump was condemned as a veritable murderer, responsible for five deaths at the Capitol. Many of his own advisers and Cabinet members had loudly resigned in disgust.
Yet six weeks after leaving office, a Phoenix-like Trump brought a crowd at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference to its feet. His 90-minute blistering broadside against Joe Biden’s radical first 40 days of executive orders and hard-left appointments enthused thousands.
Polls show that while he has lost some support in his party, Trump still wins 75 percent approval in the GOP.
So why is a supposedly once-toxic Trump apparently back at center stage?
The infamous Capitol riot is still under investigation. Elements of the media narrative of an “armed insurrection” that led to the alleged murder of officer Brian Sicknick are being debunked and quietly retracted.
Many Americans disapproved of an outgoing president holding a massive rally about alleged voter fraud in a highly polarized climate. But evidence has not yet suggested — as the media once insisted — that Sicknick was assaulted and murdered by a rioter.
One of the four protesters lost in or near that melee died through violence. She was an unarmed female military veteran shot while unlawfully breaking into the Capitol by a still unnamed police officer.
So far, no one arrested inside the Capitol has been charged with either carrying or using a firearm. The “armed insurrection” turns out to have been more of a leaderless, thuggish mob riot “incited” by no one in particular.
For all the national outrage at Trump, 95 percent of Republican House members voted against his impeachment. Eighty-six percent of Republican senators voted to acquit him of impeachment charges.
Biden so far has not turned out to be the “good old Joe from Scranton” moderate healer of media and Never Trump fantasies. Instead, his executive orders and appointments are the most radical and polarizing of any recent president.
Getting kicked off social media by Silicon Valley moguls ironically turned out to be a plus for Trump. His once controversial tweets and posts no longer distract from Biden’s frequent displays of ineptitude. And in the lull, attention has turned to Trump’s fiercest critics — especially Govs. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California. Both are now mired in scandal, and Newsom is likely facing a recall election.
Ever so slowly, the image of the now-muted ex-president is transforming from former bad-boy bully to current bullied private citizen.
In addition, the 74-year-old ex-president acted like he was just 60 at the CPAC event. The 78-year-old Biden increasingly appears bewildered — and more like he is in his 80s.
The current detention of undocumented minors at the border and presidential orders to bomb in Syria remind voters that Biden is doing exactly what the now-silent media used to blast Trump for doing. A Biden-created border crisis, climbing gas prices and renewed aggression from China suggest that the “Make American Great Again” agenda may be missed after a little more than a month of reset.
The United States leads the world in COVID-19 vaccinations, in part because Trump wisely hedged bets by enlisting and often subsidizing several different companies.
Right after the Capitol riot, there was talk in Republican Party circles about building upon the successful MAGA agenda — but by engineering a Trump transition to a senior statesman role.
Insiders think impressive possible 2024 presidential candidates such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others might better advance the popular MAGA cause — with the endorsement of Trump himself. The new standard-bearer then supposedly would lack Trump’s off-putting manner that alienated swing voters.
That may happen. But for now, no one knows whether Trump’s ability to cut through left-wing platitudes revs up more to vote than it does to turn off others.
Events have radically turned political realities upside down in just six weeks. We should expect far more volatility in the next four years.
Party insiders may dream of Trumpism without Trump, fearing that he could never win a majority of voters. They may be right. But then again, who has been right about Donald Trump’s final demise in the last five years?