Democrats hand Republicans a most welcome Christmas gift

Too scared of his base to speak out against Donald Trump, the Republicans breathe a sigh of relief as Democrats detail his unfitness for office

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There’s an awkward moment at a lot of holiday parties where a rambunctious and entertaining guest overstays his welcome.

He — it’s typically a man — begins repeating anecdotes, his crowd-captivating one-liners from earlier in the evening fall flat, and instead of noticing the stifled yawns and guests tiptoeing away, he just ups his antics.

That, in a nutshell, is the quandary facing the Republican Party, whose leaders would prefer Donald Trump quietly leave the building, but have no tactful way of showing their erstwhile VIP the door.

One wonders, then, if there are collective sighs of relief at the Republican National Committee following this week's catastrophic news for Mr Trump, whose bid to become president again appears ever more quixotic.

On Monday, the House panel investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol referred Mr Trump to the Department of Justice for potential prosecution on four criminal charges, including conspiracy to defraud the US and incitement of insurrection.

Critics have decried the Democrat-led proceedings as political theatre, and the Justice Department has not commented on the referrals.

But Mr Trump got more bad news on an unrelated matter on Tuesday.

A different House committee, again Democrat-led, said it would release six years of his closely guarded tax returns, which are expected to show he paid little or no income tax for years thanks to significant business losses.

Then on Thursday, the January 6 committee released its final report, identifying Mr Trump as the “central cause” of the attempted “coup”.

It all triggered another round of brutal headlines for Mr Trump, who this month called for the US Constitution to be terminated and whose real estate company was convicted of carrying out a criminal scheme to defraud tax authorities for more than 15 years.

US president Donald Trump talks on the phone to vice president Mike Pence from the Oval Office on the morning of the January 6 riots in Washington. AP

Mr Trump's snowballing crises must come as welcome news for senior Republicans as they quietly freak out about what their 2024 election platform should be and who should lead them to the polls.

The passionate loyalty Mr Trump still commands among many Republican voters means they have long downplayed any of his scandals, including the January 6 riots and his attempts to nullify the 2020 presidential election that he lost to Joe Biden by seven million votes.

But now, thanks to the culmination of years of Democrat efforts, Republicans have the cover to distance themselves from their one-time standard bearer.

Several conservatives who decried the January 6 committee as a political hatchet job suddenly became mute in their defence of the former president after the criminal referrals. Others went so far as to condemn him, a move that not long ago would have been heretical.

“The entire nation knows who is responsible for that day,” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday. “Beyond that, I don’t have any immediate observations.”

By Wednesday, he had gone a step further.

“Here’s what I think has changed: I think the former president’s political clout has diminished,” Mr McConnell told NBC News.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said Donald Trump's political clout had diminished. AFP

November's midterms showed once more that Mr Trump can never win another election, and a promising new candidate for 2024 in the form of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is emerging.

Mr Trump's sagging support was reflected in a recent poll that found only 31 per cent of Republicans want him to run in 2024, compared to 56 per cent who support Mr DeSantis.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said Mr Trump was at least partly to blame for the attack on the Capitol that left five people dead. He said: “No man is above the law”.

Tom Marino, a former congressman who had been one of the first to support Mr Trump, told The New York Times on Monday that the Republican Party now must “do whatever it has to do to get away from Trump”.

But don't expect a large number of high-profile public disavowals just yet. Mr Trump has shown he is nothing if not tenacious.

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy continues to publicly back Mr Trump and has dismissed the January 6 committee as a “sham process”. But according to witness testimony gathered by the panel, Mr Trump admitted to the congressman that he knew he had lost the 2020 election but refused to concede.

As the Republicans look to 2023, when they will have control of the House of Representatives, perhaps they will glance across the aisle and inwardly thank the Democrats for pulling Mr Trump out of contention for 2024 and, maybe, paving the way for the conservatives to reclaim the White House with a different candidate.

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Published: December 23, 2022, 7:47 PM