No one discovery from the committee hearings on January 6 was expected to sway Republican opinion of Donald Trump, according to common thought.
The steady trickle of negative press that followed may have been just as harmful to the former president. Six weeks into the committee’s public hearing schedule, there is a growing sense in Republican Party circles, including those close to Trump, that a sizable section of the rank-and-file may be becoming tired of the never-ending stream of Trump-related disclosures.
The public surveys and focus groups that indicate rising Republican receptivity to a different presidential contender in 2024 show the weariness. According to discussions with more than 20 Republican strategists, party leaders, and pollsters in recent days, the cumulative effect of the hearings has at least somewhat weakened his popularity.
“Do you really want to debate the 2020 election again? There is definitely a moist drip to it. Are you genuinely interested in debating what occurred on January 6? remarked Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent figure in Iowa’s evangelical community and a key player in the state’s primary elections as the nation’s first caucus state. To be very honest, I believe that there is a certain fatigue among some ardent Trump fans.
Trump continues to enjoy strong public approval ratings among Republicans as he gets ready to run for president again in 2024, which is widely anticipated. Republicans are overwhelmingly unconvinced by most of what the Jan. 6 committee is doing, and he continues to lead most primary polls. Before the hearings started, they were more inclined to refer to the events of January 6 as a “legitimate protest” last month than they were last year.
The continuous, retrograde call-and-response between the committee and Trump, though, may be growing tiresome for many Republicans.
Randy Evans, a Georgia lawyer who served as Donald Trump’s ambassador to Luxembourg, said: “I believe what everybody assumed was that the first prime-time hearing was such a non-event that it would continue.” But throughout the course of the proceedings, the consistency and repetition had a damaging impact. To not grasp that it’s never just one issue, you’d have to be ignorant of how politics, the media, and reputations all function. It has accumulated.
“This is all obviously beginning to take a toll—how much, I don’t know,” Evans remarked. The most important issue, though, is whether it begins to eat through the Teflon. There are some indications that it could have. But at this point, it’s too early to say.
After losing the presidential race, Trump’s political viability seemed unquestionable for more than a year. But it seems that the committee hearings had an impact on Trump’s massive fundraising effort, which has slowed recently. In several surveys, particularly in New Hampshire, the first primary state, where DeSantis was recently statistically even with Trump among Republican primary voters, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who may run in 2024, has been gaining on Trump. Almost half of Republican primary voters said they would prefer to support a Republican other than Trump in 2024, according to a New York Times/Siena College survey released last week. This finding has Republicans scratching their heads.
A moderate Republican strategist who became an outspoken supporter of Joe Biden in 2020, Sarah Longwell, conducted a series of focus groups with 2020 Trump supporters from all over the country after the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2001, and discovered that roughly half of participants consistently said they wanted Trump to run for office. However, she claimed that since the hearings started, that number has decreased.
In three focus groups that have been conducted thus far, only two participants in each group have shown a desire for him to run again, according to Longwell. “Totally unique.”
Longwell stated, “I don’t think people are sitting down and being convinced” by the hearings since the Trump supporters in her focus groups continue to be contemptuous of them.
But she said that the hearings had “turned the Trump baggage up.”
She said, “The second issue is, I cannot tell you how much these Republican voters want to put the discourse from January 6th behind them.”
That’s a far cry from the Republican view of the hearings when they started: Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) derided what he called a “prime-time dud.” Jim Justice, the Republican governor of West Virginia, dismissed them as “political theater.” And Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri called them a “complete waste of time.”
One reason that the hearings are resonating now is that even if Republicans don’t agree with the committee’s findings, they read polls. The percentage of Republicans who say Trump misled people about the 2020 election has ticked up since last month, while a majority of Americans say Trump committed a crime. Perhaps most problematic for Trump, 16 percent of Republicans in the Siena College survey said they would vote for someone else in the general election or aren’t sure what they will do in 2024 if Trump is the nominee.
Although it makes up a tiny portion of the Republican electorate, this group is crucial in areas where the outcome will determine which party will hold the White House.
Dick Wadhams, a former Colorado Republican Party chair and experienced party strategist, said: “I believe you’re starting to see the impact of the hearings, and just generally his behavior since he lost the race.”
There is no question that he has a devoted following, according to Wadhams. “I twice voted for him because I admired his achievements. But I do believe he has compromised himself to the point that it would be very challenging for him to win a second presidential election.
Republicans may be particularly concerned about their electability this year since they believe Biden is an incumbent that can be defeated. At this stage in his administration, his dismal public popularity ratings—which are currently languishing below 39 percent—are worse than Trump’s. A senior House Republican staffer claimed that the comparison being made between “a fantastic opportunity to win back the White House in 2024 and the one person who might not be able to achieve it” is part of the reason for the committee hearings’ resonance on January 6.
An inquiry for comment was not answered by a Trump spokesman. Trump has frequently called out the committee’s work as being political. And since the majority of other Republicans share that opinion, it’s doubtful that many of Trump’s opponents would use the committee’s findings against him in the years leading up to 2024.
Nevertheless, as the midterm election year grinds on, the Republicans who may challenge Trump in 2024 are increasingly breaking with him.
On Friday, former Vice President Mike Pence will campaign in Arizona for gubernatorial candidate Karrin Taylor Robson, while Trump that same day appears in the presidential swing state for Robson’s rival for the GOP nomination, former TV news anchor Kari Lake. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, among others, have split with Trump in midterm endorsements in other states. So has outgoing Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who engaged in proxy war with Trump in the gubernatorial primary held Tuesday in Hogan’s home state.
As much has anything, those midterm primaries – coinciding with the Jan. 6 committee hearings – have laid bare the willingness of Republicans in at least some cases to disassociate their adoration for Trump with support for him politically. Trump’s endorsement has pulled Republicans across the line in competitive primaries in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, but his chosen candidates have flopped in other races, including in Georgia and Nebraska.
According to prominent Republican pollster Whit Ayres, the impact of the hearings on Republicans’ support for Trump would be minimal. “The “Always Trumpers” and the “Maybe Trumpers” are adamant that they are not paying any attention to the proceedings at all. Republicans nearly consider it an article of religion to state, “I am not paying attention to these hearings.”
The way that translates, though, is that they think other candidates will have less baggage, Ayres said. and what seeps into the political water from these sessions reinforces that.
And the ongoing discussion about Trump’s actions on January 6 is now in the political fray as the Jan. 6 committee gets ready for another hearing on Thursday.
Republican strategist John Thomas, who works on House campaigns nationwide, claimed that in recent conversations with Republican activists and state party chairs in a number of states, “almost to the T, and I don’t really care what state it’s in, they all say, ‘Love Trump, love his policies, wish he would just be a kingmaker.’ And that’s really a change from six months or a year ago, when the consensus was that “Trump must run again because he is the only one who can battle the swamp and advance the policy agenda.
Thomas clarified, “It’s not Trump hate. “Trump weariness, I guess. To the extent that they are paying attention, I believe [the committee hearings on January 6] serve to remind people that, hmm, is this a really serious issue? No. But dang… Then Trump starts ranting, and people start to say, “We’re weary of it.