Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



Fourteen days, January 6 to 20 in Washington, will challenge politicians, pundits, and historians for decades. What happened, why it happened, and Donald Trump's complicity are questions that strike the fabric of American democracy.

We quickly learned from TV, social media, and the press what happened in Washington January 6. What wasn't clear was why thousands of protesters quickly became a mob that invaded the capitol and ransacked the Senate and House chambers and threatened Members of Congress.

Mayhem reigned at the Capitol for hours before the National Guard arrived and cleared out the insurgents. We now know the attack was planned by a small group of extremists known as Proud Boys and another called Oath Keepers. President Trump was accused of personally turning a large protest march into a mob in order to prevent Congress from confirming Joe Biden as the new president.

The House of Representatives, with its majority Democrats, acted quickly. It impeached Donald Trump on the charge of inciting insurrection, but it soon turned into a partisan issue when only ten Republicans joined Democrats in voting for impeachment. The issue for the Senate, now split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, is whether it was constitutional, or politically prudent, to oust a president who had already been voted out of office. Senate Democratic leadership wanted to delay holding a trial in order to give President Biden time to have his cabinet confirmed by the Senate.

What should we make of these dramatic events in Washington? First, Congress and the country must decide how to deal with a former president who demonstrated a serious danger to our system of government. Second, President Biden needs to conduct his presidency in a way to reduce current deep cleavages in American society.

Dealing with Donald Trump's future in politics is the major task for the Republican Party. It must decide whether it's the party of Trump, or return to a moderate-conservative stance and force Trump supporters to form their own party. Some die-hard Trumpists suggested starting a "Patriot Party" to compete with the moderates that many senators and most business leaders prefer. If this happened, it would resemble ex-president Theodore Roosevelt's decision in 1912 to form the Bull Moose Party and split Republicans.

What is more likely is that Trump supporters will try to dominate the Republican Party, and the test will come in the 2022 off-year elections. Republican moderates will be intimidated by Trump's supporters who will challenge them in the party's primaries. That happened in Virginia's 5th Congressional District last year when a moderate conservative member of Congress, Denver Riggleman, was unseated in the Republican primary by a far-right conservative, Virgil Goode.

What's the future for Donald Trump? It seems certain the Senate will not convict him of impeachment charges brought by the House. Seventeen Republicans would have to join fifty Democrats to reach the sixty-seven required to convict. Republicans argue that since Trump is no longer president, why go through the process. One alternative proposed by Virginia's Senator Tim Kaine suggests that Congress "censure" Trump for promoting the attack on the Capitol. It's not clear whether Congress would accept that if conviction isn't likely.

President Biden's task ahead is fraught with difficulty, for two reasons: First, Democrats are deeply divided on what kind of future they want for the country. He was selected as presidential candidate, because he represents the moderate majority of the Democratic Party. His selection of a cabinet demonstrates a desire to lead from a moderate, not a radical left, stance. Second, many of his early political decisions suggest he will placate leftists like Senator Bernie Sanders and the House radicals, then move to the center and try to persuade moderate Republicans to join in his major policy initiatives. Biden's meeting in the Oval Office with a group of Republican senators last week is a good sign of a desire to negotiate.

What are President Biden's chances of getting bi-partisan support? Much depends, in my view, on how Republicans view their chances of winning a majority in the House in 2022. If they calculate their election prospects are better by compromising with Biden, they will negotiate. If Republicans don't see the political benefit, Biden faces a hard two years ahead.

File last modified on Sunday, 07-FEB-2021 07:25 PM EST

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