Peter Baker, the chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, has covered four administrations. This is his analysis of the historic moment in Washington.
So this is how it ends. The presidency of Donald John Trump, rooted from the beginning in anger, division and conspiracy-mongering, comes to a close with a violent mob storming the Capitol at the instigation of a defeated leader trying to hang onto power as if America were just another authoritarian nation.
The scenes in Washington would have once been unimaginable: A rampage through the citadel of American democracy. Police officers brandishing guns in an armed standoff to defend the House chamber. Tear gas deployed in the Rotunda. Lawmakers in hiding. Extremists standing in the vice president’s spot on the Senate dais and sitting at the desk of the speaker of the House.
The words used to describe it were equally alarming: Coup. Insurrection. Sedition. Suddenly the United States was being compared to a “banana republic” and receiving messages of concern from other capitals. “American carnage,” it turned out, was not what President Trump would stop, as he promised upon taking office, but what he wound up delivering four years later to the very building where he took the oath.
The convulsion in Washington capped 1,448 days of Twitter storms, provocations, race-baiting, busted norms, shock-jock governance and truth-bending prevarication from the Oval Office that have left the country more polarized than in generations. Those who warned of worst-case scenarios only to be dismissed as alarmists found some of their darkest fears realized. By day’s end, some Republicans discussed removing Mr. Trump under the 25th Amendment rather than wait two weeks for the inauguration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.
The extraordinary invasion of the Capitol was a last-ditch act of desperation from a camp facing political eviction. Even before the mob set foot in the building on Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Trump’s presidency was slipping away. Democrats were taking control of the Senate with a pair of Georgia runoff election victories that Republicans angrily blamed on the president’s erratic behavior.
Two of his most loyal allies, Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, broke with Mr. Trump as never before, refusing to go along with his bid to overturn a democratic election after standing behind him or remaining quiet through four years of toxic conflict, scandal and capriciousness.
And following the attack on the Capitol, even more Republicans abandoned him. While most Republicans in the House stuck with him, he lost more than half of the Republican senators who started the day on his side of the battle, leaving him just six on the first Senate vote when deliberations resumed after the rioters were removed.
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