The Jan. 6 Hearings Are Denting Trump’s Political Armor
Republicans still supporting Donald Trump were a target audience for all eight of the Jan. 6 committee’s recent hearings. Rep. Liz Cheney appealed to this group in her closing remarks on Thursday night.
“The case against Donald Trump in these hearings is not made by witnesses who were his political enemies,” said Cheney, a Wyoming Republican and the committee’s vice chair. “It is instead a series of confessions by Donald Trump’s own appointees, his own friends, his own campaign officials, people who worked for him for years, and his own family.”
The hearing on Thursday detailed Trump’s repeated refusal to quell the deadly mob, even when he knew that some of them were armed and that Vice President Mike Pence’s life was in danger. Cheney suggested the former President’s supporters should view his behavior related to that day as disqualifying for future office as many of Trump’s former allies do.
“Can a president who is willing to make the choices Donald Trump made during the violence of January 6th ever be trusted with any position of authority in our great nation again?” she asked.
Thursday’s hearing continued the drumbeat of revelations over six weeks of testimony. Yet none of it so far has shown to markedly dent Trump’s approval ratings among Republican voters, which remains firmly in the mid-80s. He still draws thousands of supporters to his public appearances, even though he was the president.
He is, in other words: he still remains the star of his party.
Despite this, Trump appears to be suffering some political consequences from the hearings. GOP strategists have noticed signs that Trump is losing his grip on power. The polling data does confirm that Trump is popular with Republican voters, but it also indicates that they are more open to voting for another presidential candidate 2024.
“A lot more Republicans today than before the hearings have started to say, ‘No, I think we can find someone who has less baggage—-who will do the same kinds of things that I want,” says Whit Ayers, a Republican pollster and political consultant.
Thursday night’s hearing included new searing moments of Trump’s disinterest in helping end the violence unfolding on Capitol Hill. He was captured on video expressing support for the rioters and recording a message late in January. His supporters were still engaging in combat at the Capitol with police officers. Trump told them to “go home” but also validated their behavior by saying the election was “stolen” and calling the violent mob “very special” and saying “we love you.”.
Also, the committee showed outtakes of video from January 7, where Trump recorded a message to the public that his aides scripted. He was unwilling to make it this far. “I don’t want to say the election is over,” Trump says to aides in the room, including his daughter, Ivanka Trump. “I just want to say that Congress has certified the results without saying the election’s over, OK?”
Earlier in the hearing, investigators played video footage and radio transmissions showing Pence’s Secret Service detail frantically trying to find a clear path to evacuate him from a room near the Senate Chamber as a violent mob stood off against Capitol Police officers steps away. A national security official who had listened to the radio transmissions that day told the committee that members of Pence’s security detail felt they were in such life threatening danger, that they passed along messages to tell their loved ones if they didn’t survive.
Ayers says that it’s become “an article of faith” among Republicans that only Democrats are watching the hearings. They have been learning about all the information even though they may not be being watched by many Republicans.
“Much of the testimony is so compelling and so shocking that it seeps into the political water,” Ayers says.
A former Trump White House official says the clearest impact on Trump politically can be seen in the Republican Party’s powerful donor base, many of whom have been “rattled” by the barrage of testimony that has cast the White House after the 2020 election as chaotic and Trump as out of control.
The official, who asked not to be named to avoid angering Trump and other members of his inner circle, says a consistent reaction has been, “Wow, it was more effed up than I realized.”
Some large GOP donors have raised concerns about Trump’s polling, which suggests he would be hard to beat in the Republican primary. They also wonder if it is masking his general weariness.
“Does Trump have more of a glass jaw now than people realize?” the former official said.
Another former Trump aide stated that hearings had not changed the minds of many Republicans. “I don’t think it moved anybody,” the former aide said. “Donald Trump lived his life for 30 years on the pages of the New York tabloids before he ever ran for office. Everyone knew his identity. We knew the bargain.” But the former aide acknowledged that some Republicans are looking for a candidate who is not Trump. “There’s a segment of people who would be like, ‘If we could get Trump policies without the drama, I would take that,’” says the former aide. However, it is possible that no candidate fitting that description could win the election. There are few Republican contenders who have faced Trump’s fervent political attacks and not had to confront him head on.
Hearings started on June 9th. Surveys released at the beginning of the month and on June 29 from Morning Consult/Politico found Trump’s support in 2024 from Republican voters held steady at 53%. But Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s support over those two surveys grew, from 16% to 22%. The same late-June poll found 51% of GOP voters think Trump should continue to play a “major role” in the Republican Party, down from 60% in mid-May, before the Jan. 6 hearings began.
The evidence provided by the committee was overwhelming for many former Trump supporters. Jeff Leach (Republican in Texas House of Representatives, representing part of Collins County near Dallas) was an avid Trump supporter throughout his presidency. There are many other things. Twitter Thursday evening, he revealed he reached a “turning point” when he saw how Trump turned on Pence, who had been a “fiercely loyal” vice president. “That was THE moment for me,” Leach wrote, adding: “we Republicans need someone else running for President in 2024.”
The committee’s work isn’t done. The Jan. 6 committee will spend August “pursuing emerging new information on multiple fronts,” Cheney said. The committee had repeatedly been successful in court against executive privilege and immunity claims, she said. She added that there have been new witnesses and the information continues to come in. “Doors have opened, new subpoenas have been issued and the dam has begun to break,” Cheney said.
Shifting perceptions of Trump’s actions around Jan. 6, and the possibility that he may be prosecuted for it, have colored discussions over whether he should run again, and, if so, when he should announce. As the Republican Party works to leverage Joe Biden’s dismal approval ratings into a takeover of the House and maybe even the Senate, Trump could throw a wrench in those plans by announcing before the mid-terms, as he’s repeatedly hinted he might.
“The Republican’s best case is to make the midterms a referendum on the Biden Administration’s leadership and the Democrats’ leadership,” Ayers says.
“But if Donald Trump announces before the midterms, it allows the Democrats to make it more of a choice, and take some of the focus away from the failures of the Biden administration and the rock bottom job approval ratings for Joe Biden.”
Such a shift “would certainly help the Democrats,” Ayers adds.
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