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Opinion: Should we pity Trump, ‘the former guy’?

“The former guy” is the nickname President Joe Biden pasted on his predecessor at a recent CNN town hall. “I’m tired of talking about Donald Trump,” he said at one point. At another, Biden said this: “For four years, all that’s been in the news is Trump. The next four years, I want to make sure all the news is the American people.”

Depriving Trump of attention hits him where it hurts. As President, and before that as a private businessman, Trump was an eager attention-seeker, steadily barraging the world with outrageous statements, conspiracy theories and other nonsense — all positioning him at the center of an alternate universe, his most rabid loyalists hanging on his every pronouncement.

On January 6 — inevitably, it seems, in retrospect — Trump’s lies led to his MAGA army’s attack on the US Capitol, in a drive to usurp the peaceful transfer of presidential power, and finally got him banned from his favorite megaphones, Facebook and Twitter. It also moved Washington DC’s most powerful Republican to wash his hands of him.

McConnell’s decision came as the two men skirmished after Trump’s acquittal in his second impeachment trial. (A majority, with Democrats joined by seven Republicans, found Trump guilty, but conviction requires a two-thirds vote.) McConnell voted not guilty on procedural grounds, he said, but then offered a blistering attack on the outgoing President.

“The mob was fed lies,” said McConnell, referring to both Trump’s refusal to accept Biden’s win and the Capitol riot. “They were provoked by the President and other powerful people.” Trump was, he added, “practically and morally responsible.”
Offered in a formal speech delivered on the floor of the Senate, McConnell’s repudiation was obviously something planned and thought out. He delivered his remarks in the serious style of an angry principal bringing order to an unruly classroom. He didn’t call Trump names or complain about his personality. Instead, he focused on the man’s behavior, saying, “Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty.”
Without recourse to his usual social media megaphones, Trump responded with a trademark, name-calling tantrum, issued by his political organization as a written statement. Larded with ad hominem attacks on McConnell, McConnell’s wife and others, Trump’s statement seemed designed to force Republicans to choose between him and the Senate minority leader. At that point, McConnell turned away and stopped using Trump’s name.
Biden’s decision to call Trump “the former guy” was, a White House source told me, completely unplanned. It did sound like an authentic, off-the-cuff Bidenism, folksy but pointed without a trace of nastiness. This is a man whose decency deserves to be documented as assiduously by fact-checkers as they tracked the 30,000-plus deceptions Trump gave us while he was in office.

The office of the presidency comes with a bully pulpit that Trump used every day to amplify his song of himself. He was so devoted to the fiction that he had really won reelection that he refused to attend Biden’s inauguration, breaking with protocol that goes back to the 19th century.

And even after his mob had demolished America’s long democratic tradition of the peaceful transfer of power, Trump could have done something that showed a grasp of his solemn duties. But his heart doesn’t accommodate others like that. That his last act as President was to organize a miniature rally for himself and fly away on Air Force One was fittingly pathetic.
In his post-presidency, Trump used one of his first interviews to repeat the lie that he won the 2020 election and promised Sean Hannity of Fox News that in the future there will be “a lot to talk about.” However, in Washington, Trump seems less relevant to senior Republicans like McConnell and those who voted to convict him at the end of the impeachment trial. Others, like House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, have expressed continued loyalty.
Graham seems concerned about the divisiveness “the former guy” is creating inside the party. He is reportedly headed to Mar-a-Lago this weekend to try to calm the waters.
But Graham’s initiative only highlights his own apparent ambivalence toward “the former guy.” In remarks on the Senate floor, delivered in the immediate aftermath of the insurrection, when lawmakers reconvened to certify Biden’s election, Graham seemed to break with Trump, saying, “count me out.” He soon returned to the Trump camp, though, boosting the ex-President’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, as a candidate for the US Senate in a Fox News interview.
Deprived of the presidency and ignored by others, Trump is focusing on the Republican Party and causing the type of distress that once affected so many Americans — the ones who found relief in defeating Trump at the ballot box and sending him packing. Now it’s the GOP’s turn to decide what it will do with “the former guy.” Given the disaster that was his presidency, no one should be sorry for them, or for him.

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