Karen Haymon at US Capitol

Karen Haymon, of Alexandria, took a selfie as she approached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021

Karen Haymon, of Alexandria, estimated she was about 50 yards from the U.S. Capitol steps chanting "U.S.A." when the first tear gas canisters were set off.

The group of teachers, accountants, nurses and pastors, mostly from east Texas, she was with surmised, “some idiots set off a smoke bomb.”

They didn’t know what was happening up front but Haymon noticed people in tactical military gear in the crowd and someone from behind yelling “push on through.”

Then more tear gas.

“The people around me said, ‘Nope, this is headed in the wrong direction.’”

She returned to her hotel and only then, when a friend from Louisiana told her about a photo of a shirtless guy wearing a Viking horns hat standing inside the U.S. Capitol with a portrait of John C. Calhoun over his shoulder, did she know that the Capitol security had been breached on the day Congress was certifying the election of Joe Biden as the next president.

Since that Jan. 6 rush on the Capitol, which many blamed on the rhetoric of Donald Trump and his allies, the president’s approval numbers have collapsed. More than two-thirds of the nation’s voters — including 52% of the Republicans — disapprove of Trump’s handling of the post-election period and his overall job approval rating has dropped by almost half to 24%, according to a national poll taken Jan. 10-12 by The Economist.

The 1 million registered Republicans in Louisiana decreased in number by 583 voters since December, according to the Secretary of State figures.

Trump was impeached a second time. Louisiana’s Republican delegation — who represent districts in which 62% to 68% of the voters backed Trump on Nov. 3 — voted against impeachment. But, pointedly, the reasoning given by those congressmen willing to speak publicly sounded more like they opposed the procedures than backed Trump.

The FBI has warned of possible violence Sunday at every state capitol. And it’s looking more and more like President-elect Joe Biden will be giving his inauguration speech Wednesday mostly to armed National Guardsmen.

Haymon is angry that all Trump supporters are being painted with the same brush as the small group of agitators, whom she calls “loons.”

A former English teacher, Haymon came up through the Republican women’s clubs to become chief of staff for the late Clyde Holloway, who had been a conservative congressman for a decade before becoming Public Service Commission chairman.

Now a political consultant, Haymon says it’s unwise to lump all Trump supporters into a single basket and push them off into a corner.

Trolls, talking heads and insurrectionists aside, Trump identified and energized a previously ignored segment of working people marginalized by an increasingly globalized economy, struggling to keep up in a changing landscape that discounts their training and traditions.

“Saying this is a cult, you’re way off base. This is middle America,” Haymon said.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump was able to lower unemployment to levels not seen since World War II without inflation increasing, which always had gone along when more jobs were part of the economic equation. And unlike the caution of most politicians, Trump was willing to say publicly what many people thought.

Haymon can’t say the election was stolen, as Trump has said repeatedly without citing evidence — comments critics say stoked the crowd’s anger. But she says enough questions arose about protocols used in many states that the results should have been reviewed more carefully.

At least from where she stood near the Washington Monument, about half a mile from the stage, the folks were peaceful and the mood festive, despite the wicked cold. Though defeated at the polls, their political positions were still embraced by nearly half the nation and the people at the rally were there to be counted, Haymon said.

“I had heard the same speech before, but it was hard to get people fired up. I heard a lot of people talking back to their hotel to warm up,” she recalled of Trump's comments.

“It was very much about the MAGA (Make America Great Again) movement going forward,” Haymon said. “The people around me were our neighbors. This was not a bunch of kooks.”

Louisiana’s leading member in Congress, U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, disagreed Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal when he wrote that he rejected the notion that the actions that day were mostly a peaceful protest. “I also reject the notion that the mob’s actions accurately represent the motivations of the millions of Americans who voted for President Trump or the Republican Party. We have to be rational and honest while holding ourselves and others accountable.”

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.