With a criminal probe into the Trump Organization – isn’t it time Republicans return to the real world?

Donald Trump has called the investigation politically motivated, but is all this really worth it for the GOP?

Chris Stevenson
Wednesday 19 May 2021 12:08
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Related video: Liz Cheney calls for criminal investigation into Trump

Whether he is inside the White House or outside of it, investigations still swirl around Donald Trump.

One such investigation, by the office of New York Attorney-General Letitia James, has been investigating whether the Trump Organization falsely reported property values to secure loans and obtain economic and tax benefits. James’s office has now announced that the probe – which began as a civil probe – now includes a criminal investigation.

As with other investigations against him, Donald Trump has dismissed the work by James and her office as politically motivated, but that has not stopped articles suggesting that the move means the legal risk has increased for the former president.

It comes against the backdrop of what has long been billed as the “battle for the soul” of the Republican Party. Will Trump and his pushing of the idea that he lost the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden thanks to illegitimate votes – a stance that goes against every available piece of evidence and has been repeatedly debunked – manage to keep a grip on the GOP?

There is an argument that the presence of investigations into Trump mean little to his supporters. He received the most votes by an incumbent president during the election in November and polling indicates that many Republican-leaning voters still back him. That is why the GOP is struggling to let go of a candidate that, during his time in office, moulded the party into his own image.

The bigger question for the GOP is: what are they hanging on for? And at what cost? Yes, it is risky to jettison a potential candidate who has such a fervent following, and yes, a number of the newer Republicans in Congress likely relied on Trump’s support – but until Trump steps back into the political ring, this is all hypothetical.

Beyond the latest news about the Trump Organization investigation, a US House of Representatives vote is expected today (although don’t rule out a possible delay) on setting up an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the breach of the Capitol in early January. Trump has called it a “Democrat trap” and the leading Republican in the House, Kevin McCarthy, has come out against it – despite tasking some within his own side to broker a bipartisan deal over the commission.

The vote will more than likely pass, given the Democrats control the chamber, but it faces a tougher time in the more even Senate. It represents the political damage that Trump can still do from the sidelines, though. Why undermine something that has the potential for some bipartisan support? Isn’t that what is required in the wake of what happened in January?

This is what works for Trump, a mythologising of his time in office and the power he wields. Isn’t it time that the Republicans moved back to the real world? I’m not doubting that Trump could still crank into gear a political machine that would be the envy of many – but it is still up in the air whether he would be able to win anything.

Republican leadership is clearly still scared about the former president’s influence within the GOP and the possibility of scaring away the base that has been built up during the last four years. But while Trump is still on the sidelines – where he may just stay – and his real-world pull (in its current state) is still untested, shouldn’t Republicans be taking a long, hard look at where this is taking the party with few actual gains?

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