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The most likely impact of the January 6 hearings on Trump

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That’s the question on nearly everyone’s tongue during the January 6 committee hearings — and especially after Cassidy Hutchinson’s explosive testimony: Will it ultimately matter?

It’s a good question. Donald Trump has moved past a number of controversies, scandals and pretty glaring evidence stemming from the Russia investigations, and his polling numbers have been remarkably static. He lost re-election, but it was closer than most people think. And with Republicans perpetually unconvinced by the evidence against him, his base remained intact and Trump continued to wield enormous control over his party. He also has a good chance of winning back the presidency if he runs in 2024.

Of course, everyone has a breaking point. But with pro-Trump and GOP voters, it might not even be necessary to talk about it. Indeed, there is a credible argument to be made that the most likely effect of the January 6 hearings is not criminal charges against Trump or his party breaking completely with him, but a more gradual realization that it might be better to move in another direction in 2024 – if only for Trump’s baggage.

That doesn’t mean it will happen, and party leaders have shown a remarkably weak ability to push their party in that direction when they’ve tried (including after the 2016 “Access Hollywood” tape and after the insurgency of January 6, 2021).

But there are signs that the GOP base is open to it and is already potentially moving in that direction.

First, let’s talk about what Republicans think about January 6th. We don’t yet know what Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony could mean, because it just happened. But polls conducted before that hearing provide a mixed verdict on the GOP’s response to Jan. 6.

An ABC News/Ipsos poll released last week suggested a slight increase in the percentage of Americans and Republicans who think Trump should face criminal charges — 58% overall and 19% among Republicans. As the Post’s Philip Bump wrote, those numbers were up from previous Washington Post/ABC News polls asking the same question shortly after the uprising and again in April 2022, when about 1 Republican in only 10 thought Trump should be indicted.

Other polls, however, did not confirm such a change. A Quinnipiac University poll showed virtually no change in the percentages of Americans (46%) and Republicans (15%) who believed Trump had committed a crime, at least from what we know so far. to June 20. Ditto a more recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll. , which showed a virtually unchanged 15% of Republicans saying Trump had committed a crime.

A big reason could be that Republicans don’t really internalize the evidence. The YouGov poll showed that relatively few Republicans even pay attention to the January 6 hearings, and far fewer trust the information they get. For example, only 26% say they heard and believed the news that Attorney General William P. Barr told Trump that his voter fraud allegations were “bullshit,” despite Barr testifying there under oath and the committee disseminated this testimony widely. And only 13% had heard of and believed half a dozen members of Congress had asked for forgiveness, as the committee revealed last week. (About 4 in 10 Republicans said they had heard of each story, but doubted it or weren’t sure it was true.)

But this poll also contains some instructive findings regarding the potentially more subtle effects of audiences.

Over time, the poll repeatedly asked whether Trump was responsible for Jan. 6. Relatively few Republicans say so: Only 28% say Trump is at least “partly” blamed.

But in the next question, the poll asks if people are blaming “Republicans who said the election was stolen.” Here, 40 percent of Republicans say these members of their party bear at least “some of the blame.”

The conclusion is somewhat absurd. Trump was Exhibit A of the “Republicans who claimed the election was stolen,” and his conduct went well beyond mere assertion. Yet fewer Republicans say he bears the blame than other Republicans who simply echoed his message? You could argue that Republicans know this kind of rhetoric caused Jan. 6; they just don’t like the idea of ​​blaming Trump personally, because he’s their party guy.

Beyond that is Trump’s seemingly growing vulnerability in the 2024 primaries, primarily due to a potential challenge from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R). Earlier this year, we highlighted polls suggesting the matchup could be competitive. Then last week came a University of New Hampshire poll showing DeSantis pulling even with Trump in the crucial first state primary.

The Yahoo/YouGov poll also confirms this; it shows Trump at 44% and DeSantis at 33% when it comes to which of them people would like to see as the 2024 GOP nominee. It’s not as close as the UNH poll, but it’s remarkably close given Trump’s supposed hold on partying.

The poll also shows that 56% of Republicans say they want Trump to run again in 2024. That number rose to 78% in Quinnipiac polls late last year.

The other thing we need to remember here is that the dynamic differs somewhat from previous Trump controversies and scandals. After “Access Hollywood,” the party had no choice but to run with Trump; he was their candidate in the ballot the following month. When Trump was president, defending him was about maintaining legitimacy and keeping Republicans in power. Amid Trump’s impeachment in 2021, Republicans in Congress had to pick a side because they had to vote on it.

Today, the onus is less on Republicans to truly defend Trump. Indeed, if they preferred, they could just let the evidence against him build up without trying too hard to twist it. This could backfire on their party to some extent, but there is little evidence the issue really weighs on their expected mid-2022 gains.

None of this is to say the Republicans are actually going to dump Trump. The base still prefers him, even after everything we’ve learned. And in the aftermath of Jan. 6, many Republicans seemed to believe that would be the straw that broke the camel’s back and seem to have been wrong. But Trump’s status as the presumptive 2024 nominee seems more presumptuous. And the most likely potential impact of the January 6 hearings would appear to be a windfall for those looking to move on.


Washington

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