MAGA: In Trumpspeak, an aspirational euphemism for Republicanism?

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL January 18, 2021

This is the last week that we need to invest Donald Trump’s pronouncements with the solemn weight that comes of where he stands. So here goes.

Noticed something? Mr Trump increasingly speaks of his MAGA ‘movement’ but doesn’t mention the Republican Party.

That may be just fine with sections of the Party, which is in any case, deeply riven over Trumpism and its future.

Even so, Mr Trump seems to be engaged in an unsubtle act of re-branding.

On January 13, exactly one week after he incited a mob to march on the US Capitol, Mr Trump released a five-minute video in which he pretended to be a man of peace and goodwill. The chameleon act was part of his schtick and not particularly new. What was interesting was his repeated references to his MAGA movement. He used the full form of Make America Great Again once and mentioned the “movement” another three times. He didn’t say the words ‘Republican Party’.

This is what he said: “I unequivocally condemn the violence that we saw last week. Violence and vandalism have absolutely no place in our country and no place in our movement. Making America great again has always been about defending the rule of law…mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for…If you do any of these things, you are not supporting our movement, you are attacking it, and you are attacking our country,” he said. “We cannot tolerate it.”

It continued the habit of the previous day.

On January 12, six days after the siege on the US Capitol, Mr Trump finally put his nose out of the White House and pretended to be engaged in meaningful work. Again, this was part of his schtick and not greatly interesting. What was worth noting were the words he used (and didn’t use) when he spoke to reporters on his way to Texas.

Mr Trump referenced his campaign slogan and declared (without any proof): “Respect for law enforcement is the foundation of the MAGA agenda”. He also referred to the “movement”.

In his public comments since the January 6 siege of the Capitol, Mr Trump has hardly ever referred to the Republican Party. This may not be particularly surprising considering he’s famously thin-skinned. Perhaps he’s feeling miffed that his Party didn’t force through a bogus coronation for him. He’s certainly livid about criticism from some in the Party. Add to that the reality that  his grip over the Republican Party manifestly slipped on January 13, when 10 House Republicans voted with 222 Democrats to impeach him for his role in the assault on the Capitol as it met to ratify Joe Biden’s victory.

Then again, Julian Zelizer, a political historian at Princeton University, says that the Trump brand is now the Republican brand; they are one and the same, there is nothing to distinguish between them.

Does that mean MAGA has become a euphemism for Republicanism? That when you mention one, it automatically means the other? That the multitudes within the Republican Party are the MAGA warriors, some of whom the world saw during the US Capitol siege? And that Republicanism will be reduced to Mr Trump’s ugly, divisive agenda, which flourishes like a green bay tree?

The jury is out on that one.