The January 6 hearings have at times resembled a criminal trial in absentia for former President Donald J. Trump. On Thursday evening, the proceedings suddenly looked more like a court martial.
A 20-year Navy veteran and an Air National Guard lieutenant colonel led the questioning of the House members. Five times Mr. Trump has been accused of “dereliction of duty”. The nation’s highest-ranking military officer provided recorded and damning testimony about the commander-in-chief’s inability to command. A former sailor and deputy national security adviser has testified in person that the former president flouted the very Constitution he was sworn to protect and defend.
For eight days and evenings, the Jan. 6 committee relied almost exclusively on Republican witnesses to support its argument that Mr. Trump bore personal responsibility for inspiring and even encouraging the riot that trashed the Capitol. But on Thursday, the committee’s casting, choreography and script all seemed carefully coordinated to present a subtly different case to a particular subset of the American people — voters who have yet to be persuaded to break with Mr. Trump — let their patriotism itself dictate that they break with him now. “Whatever your politics, whatever you think of the outcome of the election, we as Americans must all agree on this – Donald Trump’s conduct on January 6 was a supreme violation of his oath of office and a complete dereliction of duty to our nation,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, a Republican and Air Force veteran who helped lead the interrogation.
Witness after witness described in vivid detail how Mr. Trump consumed hours of Fox News coverage on Jan. 6, 2021, in his private dining room, rather than ordering U.S. forces to step in and stop the bloodshed.
“No call? Nothing? Zero?” Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in disbelief in the audio played from his deposition.
The summer hearings were a blockbuster by Capitol Hill standards, drawing large audiences and redefining what a congressional inquiry should look like — at least one without dissenting voices. The season finale, so to speak, brought together all the storylines of previous episodes to portray Mr. Trump as a singular threat to American democracy, a man who puts his own ambitions above all else, including the welfare of the people. lawmakers and his own vice president — and continued to do so even after the riots and violence ended.
“I don’t want to say, ‘The election is over,'” Trump said in an excerpt from the recorded speech he delivered to the nation the day after the assault, which was obtained by the committee and released. Thursday. “I just want to say that Congress certified the results without saying the election is over, okay?”
Weaving together clips of its own aides testifying to their frustrations, live interrogations and never-before-seen video footage, the committee used the language of patriotism to try to disqualify Mr Trump as a future candidate by appealing to this person still more threatened. species in American politics: genuine swing voters whose views on the attack were not entirely calcified.
“He could have stopped it and chosen not to,” said Deva Moore of Corpus Christi, Texas, who said she walked out of the hearings “horrified.” “I think he is guilty of insurrection. He encouraged his supporters, who have every right to support him – he encouraged them to violence and murder.
Key revelations from the January 6 hearings
Ms Moore, who has called herself a political independent, voted for Mr Biden in 2020 but was disappointed with aspects of his record and said she would no longer support him. She doesn’t hold Jan. 6 against Republicans in general: It “only affects how I feel about Trump,” she said.
It’s unclear if the hearings change many minds or attract an audience that already agrees with their findings. Polls indicate a sharp split between the opinions of Americans who stick with them and those who listen to them. A Quinnipiac University poll this week showed that 69% of Americans who said they were following the hearings closely believed Mr Trump had committed a crime related to trying to change the election results. But only 22% of those who said they weren’t thought he had committed a crime.
“Because of the way they put it together and presented the case with all the Republican witnesses, the judgment of the story, they’re going to be seen as having unraveled quite a hug,” said Lee M. Miringoff, director from Marist College. Public Opinion Institute. “It may not be transformational per se, but I think it impacts different constituencies.”
Hearings are certainly monitored. The premiere, in June, ranked as the most-watched telecast of the second quarter, amassing nearly 20 million viewers across multiple networks. Among non-sporting events, it ranked second to State of the Union in viewership. The first estimate for Thursday’s hearing from Nielsen was 17.7 million viewers.
But Fox News, one of the most important outlets for reaching Republican voters, proudly ignored the majority of the debate.
“One of our producers just said that on all the other channels they’re doing some kind of ratings on January 6th,” Tucker Carlson, the channel’s popular prime-time host, said Thursday. “Jan. 6?” he said. “Because it’s the biggest thing happening in America right now.”
Republican strategists involved in 2022 congressional campaigns say hearings barely registered for voters thinking about midterm elections. But some strategists believe the proceedings may affect perceptions of Mr Trump, contributing to fatigue with him among Republican voters as they begin to think about the next presidential campaign.
“It would be a mistake to assume that the January 6 hearings have no political effect on Republicans,” said Whit Ayres, a prominent GOP consultant. He said the hearings appeared to be aimed at “Maybe Trump” voters: people who voted twice for Mr. Trump and approved of his professional performance but would be willing to support other Republicans in 2024.
“It will go into the water,” Mr Ayres said. “The way that translates in terms of the polls is an increase in the number of Republicans who would like to see someone else be the standard bearer in 2024, someone who could pursue many of the same policies but carry fewer personal baggage than Donald Trump.”
Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the committee’s vice chair and one of Trump’s most vocal Republican critics, called his behavior “indefensible” on January 6 during Thursday’s hearing. She accused him of manipulating his supporters so much by stoking the lie of a stolen election that he “turned their love of country into a weapon against our Capitol and our Constitution.”
“Donald Trump knows that millions of Americans who supported him would stand up and defend our nation if threatened,” Ms Cheney said. “They would put their lives and freedom on the line to protect her. And it feeds on their patriotism.
Republican voters will deliver a verdict on Ms Cheney much sooner than on Mr Trump as she seeks to fend off a Trump-fueled primary challenge next month. She is widely seen as the underdog.
Democrats believe the deadly events of Jan. 6 remain a powerful part of the argument against a Republican return to power, as they seek to make midterm campaigns a two-party choice rather than a referendum on Democratic leadership. The hearings, some say, served as a powerful reminder of the Republican drift toward extremism.
Celinda Lake, a Democratic strategist who was probing during Mr Biden’s 2020 campaign, said there were signs the hearings were breaking through with independents, especially independent men, who disapproved of Mr. Biden.
“They’re really sensitive to arguments of, ‘This is a criminal conspiracy. This is trying to overturn the election. discussion on the subject “And that makes independent men very fiery.”
Still, some voters are skeptical of the hearings.
“They are biased with a predetermined outcome,” said Richard Smith, 69, of Maricopa County, Arizona, who voted for Mr. Trump in 2020 but believes Mr. Biden ultimately won. He said he would prefer Mr. Trump not run again. “There’s a point where you just accept events and move on, and he doesn’t seem to be able to,” he said.
Independent voters remain divided on whether Mr. Trump committed a crime in the aftermath of the 2020 election. In a New York Times/Siena College poll taken in early July, a 49% majority said Mr. Trump had committed “serious federal crimes” and a 56% majority said he had threatened American democracy.
David Winston, a veteran Republican pollster, said he thinks voters are paying attention to the hearings but many are ignoring some findings because Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans bear sole responsibility.
“There is an understanding that this is one side of the story. The electorate takes notice of that,” Winston said. “There is no evidence that it moved anyone.”
Indeed, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll in recent days showed that the share of Americans who think Mr. Trump bears much or much of the blame for the riot has remained virtually unchanged for a week after he it happened.
For at least some Republicans, the hearings were a reminder of a dark chapter in the party’s recent past. “The peaceful transfer of power is fundamental to the very foundation of our country,” said Mississippi Republican National Committee member Henry Barbour. “What happened that day and what led up to it is a terrible stain on our party.”