Los Angeles Times
Jan. 6 hearings chipping away at Trump’s support
His die-hards aren’t budging, but many in the GOP are troubled by the testimony.
— Six weeks of televised hearings by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol have not collapsed Donald Trump’s support, but they have left the former president politically wounded and deepened his legal jeopardy.
Yes, Trump remains the most powerful figure in the Republican Party, able to exact revenge against political figures who openly fight him. His chief Republican tormentor on the Jan. 6 panel, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, faces almost certain defeat in her primary next month — a recent poll showed her trailing her Trump-endorsed opponent by 22 percentage points.
But even before the hearings, losses by Trump-endorsed candidates in other primaries showed the limits of his power to reward or punish. At the same time, his much-vaunted moneymaking operation has slowed, with fundraising by his main political group falling sharply in the last six months and slipping behind that of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, as the Washington Post reported this week.
Against that background, Trump’s widely rumored plan to formally declare this fall that he’s running for the 2024 presidential nomination looks more desperate than dominating — a high-risk gambit by a politician who fears the spotlight may soon shine on someone else.
During Trump’s February 2021 trial in the Senate, his defenders accused House impeachment managers of rushing ahead without taking time to gather evidence.
“The House managers did zero investigation, and the American people deserve a lot better than comWASHINGTON
ing in here with no evidence, hearsay on top of hearsay on top of reports that are hearsay,” Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen declared then.
He didn’t really mean he wanted an investigation, of course. Instead, the accusation served as a convenient way to deflect questions from senators about whether Trump knew in advance about the potential for violence and what, if anything, he did to stop it.
The televised hearings have answered many of those questions, providing evidence that Trump’s closest aides, including his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, knew in advance that the events of Jan. 6 could turn violent, and that when Trump exhorted his supporters that morning to march on the Capitol, he knew that many of them were armed.
Thursday’s hearing showed that for hours, Trump did nothing to stop the violence. As his supporters overran the Capitol and as Secret Service agents on Vice President Mike Pence’s protective detail sent messages to loved ones expressing fear for their lives, Trump sat in his White House dining room and called senators to try to find ways to delay the electoral count, a point emphasized by Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), who led Thursday evening’s questioning along with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.).
Trump did so after being told, repeatedly, that there was no legal or factual basis for his claims of election fraud.
Van der Veen asserted during the impeachment trial that “to claim that the president in any way wished, desired or encouraged lawless or violent behavior is a preposterous and monstrous lie.” That statement seemed dubious at the time. It’s now has been clearly refuted by Trump’s own words.
“I don’t f— care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me,” Trump declared a few minutes before he spoke to thousands of supporters massed on the Ellipse that morning, according to testimony last month by former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson.
All that is relevant to the historical record of the impeachment charge, which accused Trump of having “betrayed his trust as president.” It’s also central to the possibility of criminal charges, either against Trump or people in his immediate circle.
Two federal charges have been most discussed: Title 18 U.S. Code Section 1512(c) prohibits obstructing an official proceeding, and Title 18 U.S. Code Section 371 covers conspiracies to defraud the U.S., including efforts to impede “the lawful functions of any department of government.”
Both require showing intent to interfere with a lawful government function (counting ballots and certifying the election, for example) as well as actions by the defendants that were “corrupt” or that used deceit or dishonesty.
Advance knowledge of the possibility of violence would help show intent, while knowing that the claims of election fraud were bogus would provide evidence of deceit and dishonesty. At Thursday’s hearing, Kinzinger made the point about intent explicit.
“The mob was accomplishing President Trump’s purpose, so of course he didn’t intervene. President Trump did not fail to act during the 187 minutes between leaving the Ellipse and telling the mob to go home. He chose not to act,” Kinzinger said.
Whether federal prosecutors will feel they can prove those elements against Trump remains a question for the future. But the hearings have put energy into the criminal investigation. Trump and people close to him also could face charges from a Fulton County, Ga., grand jury examining efforts to overturn the election results in the state, according to court filings.
At minimum, the hearing testimony has reminded some Republicans that lashing themselves to the former president puts them at risk from a steady drip of new revelations.
How much the hearings have changed the political climate depends on what questions are asked and of whom.
Committed Trump partisans mostly haven’t watched the hearings — 56% of Democrats but only 35% of Republicans say they have heard “a lot” about the testimony, according to a Marquette University nationwide poll released Thursday.
Other Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have watched, however, and some have shifted. Among independents,
the share who described the events of Jan. 6 as a “political protest protected under the 1st Amendment” has dropped significantly, and the share calling it an “insurrection” and a “threat to democracy” has gone up since before the hearings, according to a NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist College poll.
Views are more dug in on the question of Trump’s personal culpability, the poll found. The share of Americans who say that Trump bears “a great deal” or a “good amount” of the blame for what happened stood at 57% in the latest survey, up slightly from 53% in December, the poll found. Among Democrats, 92% blamed Trump, as did 57% of independents, but only 18% of Republicans.
A potentially more telling indicator is that Trump’s personal standing with the public, never high, has fallen during the course of the hearings. Currently, 55% of Americans have a negative view of Trump, compared with 41% who see him positively, according to the average of polls maintained by the FiveThirtyEight website. That 14-percentagepoint deficit compares with 10 percentage points in May — not a huge shift, but movement in the wrong direction for a person hoping to mount a political comeback.
A New York Times/Siena College poll this month found that about 1 in 6 Republicans said that if in 2024 Trump once again faced off against President Biden, they would support Biden, vote for a third-party candidate or skip the election — or weren’t sure what they would do. That’s a notable level of defection within his own party, especially at a time when the incumbent president is struggling with extremely low job approval. In 2020, just under 1 in 10 Republicans voted for someone other than Trump, according to the AP VoteCast exit poll.
Polls aren’t the only evidence of the erosion of Trump’s political base. There’s also the behavior of other ambitious Republicans, who have grown bolder in their challenges to him.
Pence, for example, spent four years in office loyally defending Trump, and in the months immediately after Jan. 6 carefully avoided criticizing him, even after the experience of being evacuated as the mob Trump egged on screamed for him to be hanged.
On Friday, he and Trump held dueling rallies in Arizona supporting opposing candidates in the state’s Republican primary for governor.
Moving on from Trump doesn’t necessarily mean repudiating Trumpism. The former president didn’t invent the political attitudes associated with his name — opposition to immigration, suspicion of liberal elites, a desire to turn back the clock on racial and gender diversity. His political skill lay in recognizing what Republican voters wanted and articulating it, as loudly and provocatively as possible.
Whoever wins the 2024 nomination will resemble Trump much more than Sen. Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 candidate and exemplar of the GOP establishment of yore. But the hearings have upped the odds that the candidate won’t be Trump himself.
‘The mob was accomplishing President Trump’s purpose, so of course he didn’t intervene.’
— REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-ILL.), a member of the House Jan. 6 committee