Pushed to protest, how many Republicans will be pulled to join?

After a sharp rejection from the Supreme Court, and after similar–if more detailed–dismissals from dozens of lower courts, Trump’s promise to fight on to hold the presidency must move beyond the legal system. Protesting in the streets is a step that remains available. But will it help in any way?

Watch Live: Trump Supporters Gather in DC Again Before Electoral College  Vote – NBC4 Washington

Saints and psychopaths turn out in the streets without worrying about their likely impact, but most people consider the consequences. Most will show up only when they think their efforts might matter.

There won’t be an official count on turnout. Neither the park service nor the police do that any more, and activist and media counts, particularly when offered from a worm’s eye perspective of the crowd, can’t be taken as certain. Reports estimate “thousands,” but observe fewer people than pro-Trump demonstrations weeks ago.

When fewer turn up to march, it’s the most stalwart who remain, and who become far more visible. At today’s demonstration, we have the white nationalist Proud Boys, noted conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, recently pardoned short-lived National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, and newly elected incoming Congressman Bob Good (Virginia). Good, who decided to run for an already Republican seat when he learned that the incumbent had officiated at a same-sex wedding, proudly announced that the crowd knew the pandemic was a fake.


It’s hard to think that there are large numbers of regular Republicans, much less non-partisan activists, who will want to be in that company. And here’s the dilemma for the Trump supporters who hold on.

The Republican Party has demonstrated the way slippery slopes work far too clearly. One-time vigorous opponents, like Senators Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz, warned about the damage Trump would cause their party–until the candidate won. In office, Trump demanded–and got–more and more Republican deference to his own cause, and any bright lines that Republican politicians might have promised themselves they’d observe, disappeared. But this doesn’t have to keep happening.

It was bracing to see that 17 Republican state attorneys general and more than half of the Republicans in the House signed onto the Texas call to invalidate millions of votes in other states. But none of the Republican senators, including Trump’s most rabid supporters, did.

There’s no longer a needle’s eye to thread, and regular Republicans are less and less likely to want to keep dancing on the head of a pin with the likes of Alex Jones and the Proud Boys.

As institutional routes to power disappear, the protests won’t stop. They’ll probably get smaller and less disciplined, maybe more dangerous and disturbing. The question is who will be willing to join in.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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