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ANALYSIS: The strength of Donald Trump’s connection to his base means the extraordinary riot inside the United States Capitol today may not be enough to pull the country out of its partisan divide, says former 9News foreign correspondent Robert Penfold.

A crowd of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol as Congress certified Joe Biden’s election victory, gaining access to both chambers and smashing windows.

A flash lights up the front of the United States Capitol as a crowd of Donald Trump supporters control the building’s steps. (Twitter @nbcnews)

The protesters turned their attention to the Capitol moments after Trump addressed them at a nearby rally.

Penfold lives in Los Angeles and retired in 2019 after 43 years with Nine, including more than two decades as a correspondent for the network in the US He continues to work as a special contributor.

He said he had never seen anything like the chaotic scenes today.

“This is really shocking and I think most Americans will join me in saying that,” he told 9news.com.au.

“Sure, we understand that it is a very divided nation, but no one thought that it could have gone to these extremes where crowds have stormed the Capitol building.

“It’s just unbelievable, especially after the president spoke to you this morning.

“In many ways, many people now believe that he incited them.

“He was the one who infuriated them to the point where he finished speaking, they turned around and went to the Capitol building.”

Penfold said security was generally extremely tight on Capitol Hill and that he was baffled at how rioters managed to get so close.

Donald Trump speaks during a rally to protest Joe Biden’s electoral college certification as president. (AP)
Protesters confront Capitol Police officers in front of the Senate Chamber. (AP)

‘Something much deeper is happening here’

Since his convincing electoral defeat to Biden, the president has pursued an unfounded conspiracy that the election was “stolen” from him and the Republican party.

That continued during his incendiary demonstration.

“If you don’t fight like hell, you won’t have a country anymore,” Trump said.

“Let the weak come out.

“This is a moment of strength.”

Trump belatedly posted a video online asking the protesters to go home.

But far from denouncing the chaos, Trump sent a message of praise to the rioters: “We love them, they are very special.”

Social media giants Facebook, Twitter and YouTube soon moved to remove posts from the president and block his accounts.

A woman holds up a Trump-Pence 2021 poster at the Donald Trump rally at the State Capitol. (AP)

The looting scenes in the houses of Congress and in the office of President Nancy Pelosi were disturbing, but Penfold said the country may not have reached a tipping point yet.

More than 70 million people voted for Trump in the November elections.

Some polls show that more than 70 percent of those voters believe the elections were in some way rigged or fraudulent in favor of the Democrats.

“Something much deeper is going on here,” Penfold said.

“A lot of people here really believe the election was stolen.

“Over and over again, the president, the person you voted for, has told you that this is the truth and, as we know, because he has been through more than 20 court cases, it is not the case.

“But because Donald Trump is such a compelling salesman, he has been able to keep selling them the idea to the point where America is more divided than ever.

“He would like to think that this might be everyone’s surprise moment to end this great divide in America, but right now I tend to think that will not be the case.”

Smoke fills the walkway in front of the Senate Chamber during the riots. (AP)
DC National Guard booth outside the Capitol.
The National Guard stands outside the Capitol after the building was secured. (AP)

Where are the Republicans going now?

Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley had led the charge by opposing the election results, even as senior party figures, such as Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Mike Pence, rebuffed Trump’s pressure.

Since he took office in 2016, the Republican party has been reshaped in Trump’s image.

But in the intervening four years, the party has lost control of the presidency, the House and, finally, this morning, the Senate.

“The Republican Party as we knew it no longer exists,” Penfold said.

“The conservative Republicans who voted for Trump because he was their candidate now believe that their party has been hijacked and that they no longer have a party.

“It will be interesting to see if the Republican hierarchy that was the leadership there will somehow figure out how to reestablish the party as a real party and somehow distance itself from Trump.

“But what happened today just drove a nail in the coffin in the Republican Party as we know it.”

People flee when protesters try to break into the House Chamber on the US Capitol. (AP)

Biden delivered a speech from Wilmington, Delaware today as looters rampaged through the Capitol.

Tradition often sees the incoming president respecting his predecessor’s office and Biden has painted himself as a healer, rarely mentioning Trump by name.

That changed today when the president-elect demanded an end to the riots and asked Trump to address the nation.

“A president’s words matter. It doesn’t matter how good or bad that president is,” Biden said.

“At best, a president’s words can inspire. At worst, they can incite.”

President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware. (AP)

Penfold said Biden appeared to blame the riot on Trump’s words and actions.

“He’s been quite reluctant to criticize Trump while he’s still president and keep to the routine of what happens when you’re president-elect: you keep quiet, you make your plans, you work quietly in the background,” Penfold said.

“Today he decided that he obviously crossed a Rubicon, so to speak, and he said to Trump, ‘You have to get out, you have to say something to the people of America.’

“In fact, he demanded that Trump, who hadn’t said anything at the time, come out to try to quell the violence that he claimed Trump had created in the first place.”

Biden’s inauguration is less than two weeks away, but Trump’s specter looms wide.

“Trump is always there, Trump is always hanging around,” Penfold said.

“This could well be a Joe Biden problem for years to come.

“There are suggestions now that Trump can, once he’s gone, go find his TV show.

“If he gets that, he could be like one of those American preachers of yesteryear on television calling his supporters every day, asking for money so he can run again, racking up millions or hundreds of millions.”

“They are terrified that Trump is not leaving.”

Inside the riots in the US Capitol

‘America always seems capable of overcoming’

In his decades living in the US, Penfold has seen the country grapple with crises from the 9/11 attacks and the financial crisis to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The chaos that hit the US Capitol today may have been unprecedented, but Penfold supported the recovery of the country’s institutions.

“People think: boy, could this be the end of America as we know it?” he said.

“I do not think so. It is a very strong nation, even in recent history.

“America always seems to be able to overcome.

“There is no doubt that the Americans are very surprised by what they saw today and certainly embarrassed by what they were seeing, but I would not say that the United States is on its knees right now.

“It is going through extraordinary political turmoil, but I have always said that as an American citizen and an Australian citizen, I have always seen the strength that this nation has in a unique way.”

“I think, somehow, it will rise above that.

“The big question is: where will Trump be?

“It’s going to be around for some time and it’s going to be a very, very disruptive influence on America for a few years.”


www.9news.com.au

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