After the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riots held five hearings, it remains to be seen how much damage the hearings will actually do to former President Donald Trump.
The House Select Committee, which spent a year investigating the events leading up to the Capitol riot, had procedures in place in the weeks and months leading up to the first live TV presentation, promising to provide evidence that some hoped to force the Department of Justice to act and indict the former president.
However, there is no guarantee that Attorney General Merrick Garland will take the unprecedented step and charge the former president with a crime for his alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election results or incite his supporters to take action. storm the Capitol as a last ditch attempt to hold on to power.
Even if no charges are brought against Trump or any of his allies, the panel still hopes their findings could at least prevent Trump from running for office again for allegedly inciting an insurrection, or ruin the reputation entirely. of the former president by reminding the American people of his actions and rhetoric prior to the January 6 attack.
However, this is not the first time Trump has faced a potentially legacy-destroying hearing in the past six years.
What sticks to “Teflon” Trump?
Trump is the only president in US history to be impeached twice, with the Senate voting to acquit him each time, and the former president also survived Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016 elections.
This adds to the seemingly endless series of scandals and controversies that have plagued Trump over the years, from the Go to Hollywood “catch ’em by p****y” recordings to his emboldening of far-right groups and handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Talk to Newsweek, Thomas Gift, founding director of the Center on American Policy at University College London, described Trump as the “president of Teflon” during his tenure, and that there is no evidence that his “ability to prevent scandals from happening”. cling to him” has decreased since January 6. or subsequent live hearings.
“Trump’s grip on the GOP may have loosened somewhat, but he is still – by far – the most dominant figure in the party. So despite the enormity of evidence proving Trump’s misdeeds , the odds of the MAGAverse dropping it in response to the January 6 hearings are essentially nil,” Gift said.
Gift added that it appears Republican voters only see the hearings as a “replay of impeachment 2.0” where Trump was accused of inciting the attack, or as “yet another witch hunt and a “political smokescreen” designed to eliminate most likely Joe Biden. opponent in 2024.
“Democrats may be glued to the TV, thrilled with every new detail uncovered in the hearings, but their minds were against Trump anyway. For all of these reasons, it’s hard to see the January 6 hearings move a little public opinion toward Trump,” Gift said.
Are people watching?
In order to press against Trump, the panel already knew it had to come up with new findings not yet known to the public, such as how often Trump falsely claimed he was the winner of the last election.
The committee was also aware that it had to maintain public interest in the congressional hearings.
To do so, they enlisted former ABC News television executive and documentary filmmaker James Goldston to help turn the proceedings into a gripping presentation suitable for prime-time television.
The approach seems to have paid off. The first live prime-time audience on June 9 drew 20 million viewers on the news networks, according to Nielsen’s notes.
However, those numbers began to drop, although subsequent ratings did not air during prime time.
The first daytime viewership on June 13 was watched by 13 million people, with the third on June 16 falling further to around nine million.
What do viewers think?
The ratings appear to be backed up by some polls, which suggest the public isn’t as interested in the hearings as they are continuing.
An Ipsos poll taken after the third hearing found that only two-thirds of Americans (66%) do not follow the hearing closely/closely at all, compared to 33% who said they follow the hearing very closely or somewhat closely. procedure.
However, a national Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday gave the opposite view. The survey found that a majority of Americans say they follow the January 6 hearings either “very closely” (26%) or “fairly closely” (32%).
Where the hearings appear to be having a detrimental effect on Trump is whether he should be charged with a criminal offense for the Jan. 6 attack.
According to the recent Ipsos/ABC News poll, nearly 6 in 10 Americans (58%) think Trump should be charged with a crime for his role in the riot.
Another survey by Navigator Research also found that 54% of respondents support the idea of the Justice Department indicting the former president in connection with the Capitol riot.
What do the experts think?
David Niven, a professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, said the fact that the January 6 hearings could focus entirely on Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results could be what’s hurting Trump.
“Ironically, one of Trump’s great political strengths is that there are so many things wrong with him that it’s hard to keep people’s attention on one thing for any length of time,” he said. Niven said. Newsweek. “Each session is a reminder that Trump lied, Trump colluded, and ultimately Trump unleashed a torrent of violence against innocent people trying to do their jobs legally.”
However, Christa Ramey, co-founder of Los Angeles-based civil litigation firm Ramey Law PC, doesn’t think the Jan. 6 hearings are hurting the former president at all, especially within the GOP.
“His group of followers are in their own echo chamber, calling the hearings a ‘witch hunt’ and not bothering to watch them, so it’s highly unlikely he will move the needle with them” , Ramey said. Newsweek.
“Republicans who aren’t necessarily Trump supporters are much more likely to be swayed by the evidence presented in the hearings. But there’s definitely a cap on how many Republicans will be swayed,” she said. for follow-up. “The fact that the audience for the hearings was modest also indicates that there is a ceiling on the degree of public interest at this stage.”
Clark D. Cunningham, a law professor at Georgia State University, said the question was not whether Trump’s reputation was tainted by the proceedings, but whether authorities believed he had committed a crime.
“The question will be whether people will be open-minded about the evidence presented at these hearings,” Clark said. “The battleground is not so much whether Trump won or not, whether there was fraud or not. Now the battleground is what Trump did,” he said. “He didn’t just talk about his belief that there was fraud. He set in motion a scheme that a California judge ruled a criminal act.”
Will the hearings lead to a criminal trial?
In the end, it doesn’t matter if the ratings for the live TV hearings plummet and people start to tune out of the proceedings, or if the opinion polls on Trump differ slightly following the January 6 hearings.
What matters is that the committee persuades the Justice Department that Trump committed a number of crimes in his attempts to overturn the election results on the eve of the Jan. 6 attack.
In his June 9 opening remarks, committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson described January 6 as “the culmination of a coup attempt” that was the “most desperate chance” of Trump to prevent Biden from becoming president.
“The committee showed that Trump knew, or should have known, that the 2020 election was free and fair,” Ramey said.
“It showed the pressure Trump exerted on Vice President Mike Pence and state officials to break their oaths and it showed the deadly consequences of the whirlwind of hate Trump unleashed,” he said. she declared. “The evidence presented at these hearings meets the necessary burden of proof to bring charges.”