The damaging revelations of the Jan. 6 committee hearings are fueling skepticism among Senate Republicans that former President Trump can win the GOP nomination in 2024 or even run for another term in the White House.
One Republican senator, who requested anonymity to comment on the former president, said the “cascade” of embarrassing details about Trump’s conduct in the weeks before Jan. 6, 2021, and during the attack on the U.S. Capitol will seriously damage his political viability ahead of the 2024 election.
“I don’t think he’ll run again, and that’s a good thing, because of the whole cascade of events,” the senator said, referring to testimony by former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson that Trump lunged at a Secret Service agent who refused to drive him to the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Hutchinson, an aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, is now cooperating with a Justice Department investigation into the Jan. 6 attack, according to media reports.
A second GOP senator, who also requested anonymity, said the overwhelming majority of Republican senators don’t want Trump to be the party’s nominee for president again.
“I could count on one hand the number of Republican senators who want Donald Trump to be our nominee,” said the lawmaker, adding, “I could count it on one finger.”
The senator said that “the cumulative effect” of the Jan. 6 hearings is weighing on Trump’s viability in 2024.
Publicly, Senate Republican leaders predict Trump will face stiff competition in the 2024 GOP primary. They believe Trump’s grip on the party is slipping amid polling showing surging voter interest in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters recently that Trump will face a “crowded field” for president.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) on Wednesday predicted the former president will have to contend with “robust” competition from fellow Republicans in the next election cycle.
Thune emphasized the importance of the party’s nominee appealing to independent and swing voters if Republicans are to win back control of the White House.
He also said the Jan. 6 hearings are “filling in some blanks” and that while the revelations won’t hurt Trump with Republican voters who already support him, voters in the middle are more likely be swayed by new details.
Several more major details emerged in the House select Jan. 6 committee’s last hearing, which aired outtakes from Trump’s taped message to the nation in which he refused to say the election was over, even though Congress has just certified the results.
GOP senators themselves are weighing how much damage to Trump has been done, even as they also look at a weakened President Biden, who has seen his approval rating drop below 40 percent.
“That’s what an election process would sort out,” Thune said. “There are different polls and surveys and focus groups that are all trying to assess what the impact of all this and how it affects 2024. I think it’s too early to tell.
“I also think people are going to be looking at taking into consideration the strongest and best candidate in a general election setting and trying to get the White House back,” Thune predicted.
“There are folks who aren’t in one camp or the other that are probably susceptible to new information, and there’s been some new information that’s come out,” he said.
“Elections get decided — national elections at least — by the people in the middle. That’s who everybody in the end is going to have to win. The two sides will go to their respective corners, their respective camps, and there’s probably nothing that changes their minds about any of this, but those independent voters that decide late … or maybe aren’t paying all that much attention right now are probably going to decide it,” Thune said.
“Some of these things, cumulative effect, probably gets people looking at other possibilities,” he added.
A growing number of Republican senators and voters are shifting to a more negative view of Trump.
A Reuters-Ipsos poll conducted last week showed that 40 percent of Republicans now think Trump deserves some blame for the attack on the Capitol. The poll also found that one-third of Republicans don’t think Trump should run again for president, up from 25 percent who said so at the beginning of last month.
Even Trump’s media allies are taking a closer look at potential rivals who could beat Trump in a Republican primary or dissuade him from even running.
The hosts of “Fox & Friends,” Fox News’s flagship morning news program, on Monday highlighted DeSantis leading Trump in several age demographics in a new Turning Point USA poll as well as the governor’s “tremendous strength” in New Hampshire, Michigan and Florida.
That prompted an angry rebuke from Trump.
“@foxandfriends just really botched my poll numbers, no doubt on purpose,” Trump fumed on Truth Social, his new social media platform. “That show has been terrible — gone to the ‘dark side.’”
The editorial board of the New York Post, which has a conservative-leaning voice, on July 22 pronounced Trump’s silence on Jan. 6 “damning” and declared “Trump has proven himself unworthy to be this country’s chief executive again.”
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board on that same day, the day after the House select committee’s hearing, opined, “No matter your views of the Jan. 6 special committee, the facts it is laying out in hearings are sobering.”
“Character is revealed in a crisis, and Mr. Pence passed his Jan. 6 trial. Mr. Trump utterly failed his,” the Journal wrote of former Vice President Mike Pence’s decision to uphold his constitutional duty and certify the election results.
The first GOP senator who spoke to The Hill confidentially predicted that Fox News’s other main anchors, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, will give other potential Republican White House candidates more airtime and attention over the next year.
The senator said GOP voters “like” Trump but are “looking for other people to run,” describing what the lawmaker sees as growing Trump fatigue in the party.
Despite all this, Republican senators and strategists said Trump is still a formidable political force.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is widely viewed as a potential presidential candidate, said Republican White House hopefuls will be watching closely to see what Trump does.
“On the Republican side, the obvious question is what does Donald Trump choose to do. I don’t know what he’s going to do. Everybody who is looking at the race is waiting to see what Trump decides,” he said.
Asked if he thought Trump has been hurt politically by the Jan. 6 committee’s investigation, Cruz said, “I think the Jan. 6 hearings have been a political circus and a transparent campaign ad by the Democrats.”
“I don’t think they move public opinion. I think they’re preaching to the choir,” he said.
Asked about the scorching criticisms of Trump’s conduct by conservative publications, Cruz replied, “He’s going to have to make the decision whether he wants to run again or not.”