Trump uses politics of rage to fuel his return to power

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Chances are the Canadian vexation quotient is nowhere near what we are witnessing south of the border. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is certainly hoping so.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on August 7, 2023.

OTTAWA—The more charges that former U.S. president Donald Trump faces, the more his path to power is paved.

Trump responded to multiple accusations on Aug. 3 in relation to his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election of U.S. President Joe Biden.

The image of a former president in court does not seem to have any negative impact on his run for next year’s presidential election. His opponents are dropping off, one by one, as new legal challenges propel Trump to the head of the pack in the Republican nomination race.

Instead of finishing off the former president, allegations of conspiracy to defraud the government and obstruct an official proceeding have energized his campaign. They play into the Trump narrative that the “deep state” is out to get the former president, thus pumping up his support in the Republican Party.

His former vice-president, Mike Pence, said last week what most are thinking. According to the man who served as his running mate, the president was surrounded by “a group of crackpot lawyers who kept telling him what his itching ears wanted to hear.”

Pence also said that “anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be president of the United States.”

Trump’s reply was clear: “I feel badly for Mike Pence, who is attracting no crowds, enthusiasm, or loyalty from people who, as a member of the Trump administration, should be loving him.”

Trump does not feel badly. He was encouraging his followers to string up Pence when the vice-president refused to disallow the results of the Biden win. But the former president is known for saying one thing and thinking another.

Legal pleadings show that Pence and others advised Trump that there was no legal path to overturn the election results. Trump’s criminal charges are costing a fortune, but recent press reports say that his registered fundraising vehicle is covering the millions in legal bills.

While charges cost money, they are being paid by supporters, and those same supporters are rallying behind his 2024 bid for the White House.

It seems inconceivable to foreign observers that after all his legal troubles, Trump should still be so popular in his party.

But there is no denying that he is head and shoulders above any opponent in the race. His closest rival, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, is lurching from one problem to another. By banning books and limiting transgender rights, DeSantis has managed to alienate Floridians and drive business away from his state.

As support plummets, his campaign rhetoric seems to be increasing. At a New Hampshire event last week, DeSantis vowed he would start “slitting throats” on his first day in office as part of his battle against the “deep state.”

DeSantis may believe that he will attract supporters by reaching out to angry Americans who stormed their seat of government on Jan. 6, 2021, but Trump seems to have cornered the angry-voter market.

Such is his popularity that Republican nominee rival Nikki Haley, who served as an ambassador under Trump, has already promised to use her presidential powers to pardon him in the event of any conviction.

In Canada, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s angry fight against government pales in comparison to the deep-state conspiracy theories that motivate Republican voters.

His continuing calls for freedom amid claims that Canada is broken mimic the Trump message about the dangers of the state south of the border. The challenge Poilievre faces may be that Canadians are less skeptical than Americans about the role of government in their lives.

Poilievre has already won his party’s support and his leadership is not under threat. He does not need to appeal to the narrow band of Canadians voters who share the “deep state” mistrust that permeates the American political landscape.

Poilievre needs to reach out more broadly. But unlike the two-party fight down south, he is in a multi-party race, so he does not need to convince the majority of voters to win a majority government. All he needs for victory is about 39 per cent of the electorate evenly distributed across the country.

Last week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attacked Poilievre, saying “cuts and being angry” are his answers to everything. Poilievre fired back, saying that the prime minister should take responsibility for Canadians’ anger.

Both are banking on the fact that anger could also be a theme in our next federal election.

But chances are, the Canadian vexation quotient is nowhere near what we are witnessing in America.

Trudeau is certainly hoping so.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.