US Election: Trumpists 'will continue to be a force', Kiwi expert warns

A Kiwi expert in international politics says even after Donald Trump loses power - by whatever means - his "cult" won't be so easily finished off.

The outgoing US President has a week left in the job before he's replaced by President-elect Joe Biden. But Trump isn't going quietly, and now stands accused of inciting violence at the US Capitol in Washington DC last week that resulted in five deaths. 

Throughout his controversial term he had near-unanimous loyalty amongst Republicans in the House and Senate, though some in the past week have sought to distance themselves from the former reality TV star, who now faces a historic potential second impeachment. 

2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused Trump of inciting the "insurrection", saying Republicans who back him "will forever be seen as being complicit in an unprecedented attack against our democracy". The New York Times on Wednesday (NZ time) said Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell - often the target of Democrats' ire - was "pleased" impeachment charges had been laid. 

Many have continued to express support for Trump however, including Congressman Mo Brooks, Senator Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley. 

Stephen Hoadley, associate professor of politics and international relations at the University of Auckland, says they - and their base - will likely be around for a while yet.

"Republicans elected locally at the state level or even at the Congressional district level, if their base is pro-Trump or radical right Republican or fundamentalist, then their seats are secure," he told Newshub.

"They're probably reinforced in their views that we liberals think are wrong, but they live in a political bubble in which they will get support. And consequently they will continue to be a force in US politics. 

"There's not a great deal anyone can do about that. They seem to be impervious to what we would call rational political argument - it's more, as some people describe it, a cult following than a serious political movement."

CNBC on Tuesday (NZ time) reported a number of Republicans who voted to uphold the results of the election last week now fear for their lives. Peter Meijer, elected for the first time in November, said a fellow Republican objected to Biden's win not because they believed the election wasn't fair, but that they feared violent backlash from Trump supporters. 

"That is where the rhetoric has brought us. That is the degree of fear that's been created," he told CNBC. 

Dr Hoadley suggested if "respectable" Republicans can't rein in their radical colleagues, they might have to start a new party altogether or kick out the Trump loyalists.

"We can only hope that the sensible centre of that party will regroup, will part company with Trump and the Trumpists and return to be a respectable alternative party in government with serious policies that serve the national interest, both domestically and internationally. This is our hope - time will tell whether the Republicans will reform and return to respectability." 

Stephen Hoadley.
Stephen Hoadley. Photo credit: The AM Show

Bush-era Secretary of State Colin Powell recently said he no longer considers himself a Republican, and a number of high-profile Republican leaders refused to say they'd vote for Trump in 2020, or said they were backing Biden, a Democrat. 

Biden will have a lot of work to do to fix the damage Trump's done, Dr Hoadley said.

"When he goes abroad, will other national leaders regard the United States as a reliable partner? Can the US be trusted to keep its consistent policies? If the President makes a promise, will that be believed by other leaders? ...

"Authoritarian dictatorships around the world will be saying, 'Look - the US is no better than we are. They can't keep order. Our crackdown in Hong Kong for example, our crackdown in Belarus, our crackdown in Russia, in China, these are things the US has to do - we were right, authoritarianism is the right form of government.' Consequently the notion that democracy is better than authoritarianism, that idea is weakened." 

If Trump is impeached again, he will become the first US President in history to have been impeached twice. He's only one of five who have been impeached before. None to date have been successful - the closest was Richard Nixon, who resigned before a vote on his guilt was carried out.