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For anti-Trump Americans, calamity spurs a muted sense of vindication

Any feelings of I-told-you-so were buried under the horror of Wednesday’s insurrection at the Capitol

A mob of supporters of President Trump during a riot he incited at the US Capitol on Jan. 6.
A mob of supporters of President Trump during a riot he incited at the US Capitol on Jan. 6.Eric Lee/Bloomberg

For the past four years, a parade of Democrats and establishment Republicans had shouted alarm about the noxious brand of politics that President Trump had nurtured, saying that it would lead to potentially deadly repercussions and a political repudiation.

Over the course of a 24-hour period last week, both of those fearful predictions came to pass, as the worst aspects of what Trump has wrought were put on full view and he, his party, and the nation faced significant consequences.

First, Republicans lost two Senate races they had been favored to win in the usually conservative state of Georgia, giving Democrats full control in Washington as Trump’s party blamed him for the losses. Next, Trump incited his supporters with false allegations about the November election and directed them to the US Capitol, where the mob mounted a deadly attack on another branch of the government, and on democracy itself.

In its wake was left a shaken nation and a mix of reactions among those who had long sounded the warnings. Any sense of vindication was buried under the horror of Wednesday’s insurrection.

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“It’s finally coming into focus,” said David Bowen, a Wisconsin state assemblyman and Democrat from Milwaukee. “Maybe it was blurred before. But it couldn’t be more clear at this point — even for people who supported Trump for a number of different reasons.”

Bowen found himself dejected Tuesday afternoon when the Kenosha County district attorney announced that no officers would be charged for the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was left paralyzed. By evening, he felt uplifted when Democrats won control of the Senate, which he hopes will allow them to address racial injustices.

The next day, some of his worst fears came true when the Capitol mob engaged in what he viewed as an attempted coup. But alongside that arose gratification in the widespread condemnation of Trump.

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“To have these shifts of just raw emotions,” Bowen said. “For Trump to proudly do nothing on these issues of justice and systemic racism — it’s all coming to a head right now, even in his last days of the presidency.”

The backlash against Trump has been swifter than after his past missteps. Across the political landscape, the calculus instantly changed, as fear of crossing Trump was replaced with fear of being seen as complicit.

“Enough is enough,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the president’s closest allies, said in the aftermath of the mob attack. “I’m out.”

Trump’s actions clearly damaged the Republican Party’s chances in Georgia; his repeated criticism of Republicans over their unwillingness to go along with his false claims about a fraudulent election failed to work, with a majority of voters no longer willing to go along with him.

Trump’s rhetoric has always been outside the pale. He refused to fully condemn white nationalists after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017. During a presidential debate he told the Proud Boys, a male-chauvinist organization with ties to white nationalism, to “stand back and stand by.” He ridiculed NFL football players for kneeling during the national anthem as a protest of racial injustice, and he nodded to anti-Semitic tropes.

But there were few far-reaching ramifications for Trump until recently.

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“It’s been more of an eye-opener,” said Nancy Quarles, a commissioner in Oakland County, Mich., of the impact of last week. “Even people I serve with — Republicans and independents who were looking at not so much him as a person but believed in his philosophies — some of that has turned. They’re not as strongly supporting him.”

But there were still 147 Republicans who backed objections to count Biden’s electoral college votes, even after the Capitol was attacked. Trump retains broad support among Republican National Committee members. And Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman he installed to lead the party four years ago, was unanimously reelected Friday without a challenger.

For years, Trump has run roughshod over other Republicans. It has at time muffled his critics, but they, too, have grown more vocal.

Mitt Romney of Utah, the only Republican senator to vote to convict Trump for abuse of power at his impeachment trial, delivered a passionate speech on the Senate floor decrying Trump as “a selfish man” and last week wrote an essay urging the country to heal its “social sickness.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has largely appeased Trump to fulfill his goal of remaking the federal judiciary, delivered a forceful condemnation of Trump for peddling “sweeping conspiracy theories” about the election.

“If there’s ever any silver lining in an awful, awful, awful day, I think it’s that this has accelerated the march away from Trumpism,” said former Arizona Republican senator Jeff Flake, who has warned his party for years about the perils of following Trump.

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“We should not have tolerated so many other elected officials amplifying the president’s falsehoods without calling that out,” Flake said. “That’s what has been frustrating and painful. And I do think it’s changed.”