Donald Trump Can’t Incite Riots Like He Used To

Donald Trump has implored conservatives to hit the streets if he ends up indicted in New York. It might be cause for worry — if Trump had any ability to mobilize mass numbers of supporters anymore.

Former president Donald Trump called for protest to “take our nation back” in advance of his possible indictment by the Manhattan DA. (Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

For reasons that remain unclear, Donald Trump decided over the weekend that he was going to be indicted in Manhattan on Tuesday. On his own Twitter-like platform Truth Social, he called on his followers to protest his imminent arrest and “take our nation back.”

Tuesday came and went, and Trump remains unindicted in the investigation stemming from payments his lawyer made to an adult performer in exchange for her silence about an affair she had with Trump. But the indictment could still come any day.

At first glance, Trump’s post looked alarmingly like his tweets in the lead-up to the Capitol Hill riots of January 6, 2021, which caused chaos at the joint congressional session and nearly stopped the certification of electoral votes. Before the 6th, Trump encouraged his social media followers to show up to a rally near the Capitol, saying it would “be wild.”

But like many things Trump these days, this one fizzled. A wide range of voices on the Right encouraged their followers not to heed Trump’s call to protest. Some, like Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, outright said it wasn’t a good idea. Others, like Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz — usually reliable firebrands — were notably not echoing Trump’s call to arms. Though she told Politico, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling for protests,”Greene also insinuated that the FBI had provocateurs ready to turn any such protests violent.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s top rival for the 2024 presidential nomination, attacked the Manhattan DA over the possible charges while also proverbially shaking his head at the chaos Trump has caused, continuing to position himself to GOP donors and voters as Trump without the drama. Meanwhile, some well-known right-wing commentators remained bitter that Trump, having encouraged the January 6 rioters to come to Washington, has done nothing to help those who remain in legal jeopardy.

It’s worth dwelling a moment on how different the reaction to Trump’s latest attempt to muster street protests is to the reaction to his plans for January 6. In 2021, many congressional Republicans echoed Trump’s demands, and some went even further. A number of them made spurious procedural objections on the 6th to delay the official certification of electoral votes, thus allowing rioters more time to create disruption. Some may even have specifically shown riot leaders the best way to get through the Capitol.

The lack of vigor around the new call to arms is surely frustrating to Trump, and it’s also somewhat of a mystery. Republicans have certainly criticized the investigation, and McCarthy has even said he would open a congressional counter-investigation into it. But perhaps the low-energy response comes from the nature of the case: the right to make payoffs to cover up an extramarital affair is hardly the kind of thing likely to resonate with Republican voters, even if they remain deeply supportive of Trump.

Perhaps the GOP is holding its fire for the much more serious investigation in Georgia, which could charge that Trump tried to impede fair elections there in 2020. That case is much more significant to their long-term project of engineering an electorate that guarantees victory, with or without a majority. Or maybe, like Trump, they simply like a winner — and Trump, for all his bluster, is looking increasingly like a loser.