The Memo

The Memo: Jan. 6 panel is hurting Trump but not helping Biden or Democrats

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) makes a closing statement during a House Jan. 6 committee hearing on Tuesday, July 12, 2022 focusing on the ties between former President Trump and far-right extremist groups.
Greg Nash
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) makes a closing statement during a House Jan. 6 committee hearing on Tuesday, July 12, 2022 focusing on the ties between former President Trump and far-right extremist groups.

Seven public hearings into the work of the House select committee on Jan. 6, an odd paradox is emerging. 

The hearings have hurt former President Trump. But they haven’t helped President Biden or his party. 

The panel, comprised of seven Democrats and two Trump-critical Republicans, has made a compelling case against the former president.  

He has been painted as willfully delusional in clinging to the fiction that the 2020 election was fraudulent and recklessly belligerent in his willingness to whip up his followers — including a crowd on Jan. 6, 2021, that he allegedly knew bore weapons. 

The latest hearing on Tuesday added a serious — if vague — charge, laid in the closing minutes by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).  

Cheney, the committee’s vice chair, implied the former president might have involved himself in witness tampering.   

“President Trump tried to call a witness in our investigation — a witness you have not yet seen in these hearings,” said Cheney, who provided no further details. “That person declined to answer or respond to President Trump’s call, and instead alerted their lawyer to the call. Their lawyer alerted us. And this committee has supplied that information to the Department of Justice.” 

Writ large, the hearings have loomed over the political landscape for more than a month, to Trump’s detriment. 

An ABC News-Ipsos poll last month indicated that 58 percent of Americans believed he should face criminal charges for his conduct. An Associated Press-NORC poll, also last month, put the figure at 48 percent.  

Whether Trump faces criminal charges over the Capitol insurrection, those events have already made him the only president in history to be twice impeached. The mere fact that the insurrection is a focal point of the news agenda has wounded him. 

“There is no doubt that the former president is being bloodied politically by these hearings,” said GOP strategist Brad Blakeman, who was broadly supportive of Trump during his presidency.  

Blakeman, a veteran of former President George W. Bush’s White House, said he believed the hearings had been partisan and inappropriate. But he said it was “just a fact” that Trump had been damaged. 

Democrats, meanwhile, have emphasized what they see as the monumental scale of Trump’s wrongdoing.  

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), one of the panel’s members, contended Tuesday that a particular tweet from Trump in December 2020 “would galvanize his followers, unleash a political firestorm and change the course of our history as a country.”  

In the tweet, Trump urged his followers to come to Washington on Jan. 6 for what he termed a “big protest” that “will be wild!” 

But, for all that, the nation’s overarching political landscape still looks far more favorable for the GOP than for Trump’s Democratic tormentors. 

Virtually no one in Washington believes the Democrats will be able to hold on to their slender majority in the House this November.  

The party has been buffeted by inflation, high gas prices, concerns over crime and border security, and a general sense of public discontent after more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

No one has borne more blame or suffered more damage than Biden.  

A New York Times-Siena College poll released on Monday put Biden’s approval rating at just 33 percent — a level that would all but guarantee a heavy defeat for his party in November if it does not improve. 

The same poll found that only 13 percent of voters believe that the nation is on the right track — the lowest figure, the Times noted, “since the depths of the financial crisis more than a decade ago.”  

Alarmingly for Biden, 64 percent of Democrats said they would prefer if the party had a different nominee in 2024, while just 26 percent believed Biden should again be their standard-bearer. 

The complicated political picture underlines how the Jan. 6 hearings can, simultaneously, be of sizable public interest and have limited electoral impact. 

The House select committee’s first public hearing, on June 9, was watched by around 20 million people. The testimony delivered at the sixth hearing, on June 28, by former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, is still the subject of news stories two weeks later. 

Even so, many Americans “aren’t even thinking of the 2020 election or the 2022 elections or the 2024 election,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor emeritus who specializes in political communication.  

“Most of them are thinking, ‘Is my neighborhood department store going to have clothes and sneakers for my kids going back to school — and am I going to be able to afford them?’ ” 

The hearings may, unexpectedly, have had their most acute political impact within Republican circles.  

They have, at a minimum, given greater salience to the idea that Trump is simply too toxic a figure to win a future general election. There is talk of the former president launching a 2024 bid soon, in part to mitigate the damage.

But right now, that will all be cold comfort to Biden and his party colleagues. They are in a gloomy political spot that seems to only be getting darker. 

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

Tags Biden Donald Trump George W Bush Jamie Raskin Jan. 6 Capitol attack Jan. 6 Committee Joe Biden Liz Cheney
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