Trump's MAGA movement suffered in 2021 — but has big comeback plans for 2022

MAGA is still kicking and it's more powerful than ever within the Republican Party

By Heather Digby Parton


Published December 29, 2021 10:42AM (EST)

Marjorie Taylor Greene, Donald Trump and Kevin McCarthy (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Marjorie Taylor Greene, Donald Trump and Kevin McCarthy (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Last year at this time we were all counting down the days until the delusional lame duck president would finally be out of office and the world would tilt back on its axis. He and his clown car full of MAGA lawyers were pushing conspiracy theories all over the country while judge after judge was knocking down their arguments in court. And we had been told by people close to him (anonymously of course) that poor Donald Trump was just having a hard time accepting his fate and the best thing to do was just let him cry it out, after which he'd fade into the woodwork as all defeated president do.

The MAGA movement seemed to have come to the end of the line. They had a good run and the reverberations would be felt for many years to come, but it was over. Their last hurrah, planned for January 6th when the faithful all planned to gather in Washington D.C. for one last Trump rally, promised to be the last of its kind. After what transpired that day we can now only hope that's true. But there is little guarantee of that. The MAGA movement is anything but dead. In fact, it's thriving.

Current polling shows that Trump managed to convince tens of millions of Americans that the election was stolen and his hardcore followers are still as rabidly enthusiastic about Trump himself as they ever were. And a new set of MAGA leaders emerged this year to carry the banner in DC. Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Madison Cawthorn, R-NC, Lauren Boebert, R -Co, Matt Gaetz, R-Fl., Arizona's Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar among others, have stepped up to troll, insult and otherwise cause chaos on behalf of the MAGA Movement in the Congress. Greene distinguished herself very early on when the House voted to strip her of her committee assignments after she "endorsed the executions of Democrats and spread dangerous and bigoted misinformation" — and was proud of having done so. The MAGA faithful immediately began sending her huge sums of money, showing just how profitable being an obnoxious, Trumpist cheerleader in Congress could be.

Later in the summer, she and Gaetz, currently under investigation by the DOJ for possible underage trafficking, took their act on the road with "Peaceful Protests Against Communism" events to entertain the troops. They weren't welcome in certain places, but that just gave them even more MAGA street cred. Boebert made a name for herself by ostentatiously displaying her gun collection during zoom committee hearings and calling Democrats jihadist terrorists on the House floor and at fundraisers. Gosar sent out an animated video showing himself killing fellow Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and got himself censured for doing it. His faithful followers couldn't love him more.

Meanwhile, across the nation, Trump voters dug in their heels and staged ongoing tantrums, threatening public health officials and school administrators who were trying to keep people safe during the pandemic and harassing election officials to say the election was stolen. They refused to get vaccinated, resulting in hundreds of thousands of unnecessary COVID deaths, instead putting their faith in the kind of snake oil cures Trump pushed relentlessly when he was president.

They are so dug in that they even booed Trump himself when he begged them to let him have credit for the vaccines. And they are shocked and dismayed that he subsequently said the vaccines actually save lives. (I'll be shocked if he pushes that line again — the backlash from his faithful supporters was fierce.)

The MAGA media even had its own odyssey this year.

According to the Washington Post, Fox News had been contemplating moving away from Trumpism after the election, something which Trump sensed and tweeted about relentlessly. He promoted the small time rivals OAN and Newsmax and it had an effect. Fox lost viewership and quickly learned its lesson. It went back to all MAGA all the time and it's ratings have never been better.

On the social media side, the results have been less stellar.

90 percent of the top-rated Facebook pages are Trumpist but the man himself has been banned from Facebook and Twitter so he is forced to send out what would formerly have been tweets as "statements" directly to his followers via email. There are a number of alternative right-wing sites, like GAB, Parler and Rumble backed by major corporate figures and billionaires but the former president is saving his essence for the new social media company called "Truth Social" he has conned some other rich marks into backing. (It will probably be better than his earlier attempt, which was basically an embarrassing blog that nobody read. )

Has Trump's golden image tarnished a bit among his followers? Maybe just a little. But considering that he continues to this day to insanely insist that he actually won the 2020 election in a landslide and suggests that he could still somehow be reinstated, it's amazing that his hold on the Republican Party is as tight as ever. Now he and his top henchwoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and her congressional clique have big plans afoot to pull the rope even tighter.

Trump has made it clear that he plans to participate in GOP primaries against incumbents he considers his enemies. The list of them is long. From Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wy., to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Trump is pledging to take out any Republican who crossed him in the past and/or refuses to say the election was stolen. Just this week, he informed Alaska Governor Steve Dunleavy that he would only endorse him if he agreed not to back incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski for re-election. The litmus test couldn't be more clear: Trump then, Trump now, Trump forever.

Greene and fellow MAGA Caucus member Madison Cawthorn, R-NC., are ready to rumble too, endorsing candidates who are interested in helping them build power in the GOP. According to the Washington Post, they are working against any Republican incumbents who are deemed disloyal to the former president. Even more importantly, the candidates this group is backing say they are uninterested in fighting Democrats -- they want to come to Congress to shame Republicans. One candidate told the Post that he wants to "force Republicans into tough votes, starting with articles of impeachment against President Biden and a full congressional inquiry into the 2020 presidential election, which he says was stolen from Trump."

They seem like a terrific bunch. And I doubt that any new GOP House speaker, whether it's Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Ohio congressman Jim Jordan or Donald Trump himself will be able to control them. This group will make the House Freedom Caucus look like mild-mannered institutionalists by comparison.

MAGA is still kicking and it's more powerful than ever within the Republican Party. In fact, in 2022 it may be gathering enough power that it doesn't actually need Trump himself. I suspect Trump may know that, too. Those boos he got last week must have him kicking himself for failing to slap the Trump name on the movement the way he's slapped his name on everything else he's ever done. Without that brand is it really his? 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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