The Memo

The Memo: Trump bows to political reality by canceling Jan. 6 event

The biggest surprise around the anniversary of Jan. 6 may already have been delivered, with former President Trump’s cancellation of a news conference that he had planned for the day.

The scheduled event, at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, would likely have featured more of the former president’s false claims about election fraud and rationalizations of the Capitol insurrection.

But his decision to step back raised eyebrows. Such a climbdown was deeply uncharacteristic. But it has also sparked questions about whether he made the call with an eye on his political future.

One of the biggest questions in politics is whether Trump will try to take back the presidency in 2024.

If he enters the race, he would be the prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination. But in a general election, he would face an uphill climb given his broad unpopularity and, especially, his incitement of the worst attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812.

A lot of media coverage of recent polls has centered upon the starkly different views Republicans and Democrats take of the assault. That’s true — but it can also overshadow the fact that Trump’s role is clearly a political millstone for him.

In an Associated Press-NORC poll released Tuesday, 57 percent of Americans blamed Trump for the assault. An Economist-YouGov poll released Wednesday showed 51 percent of Americans believing he bore either “a lot” or “some” responsibility for those events, compared to 39 percent who believe he bore “a little” or zero responsibility.

In Republican circles, both pro- and anti-Trump, the former president’s decision to cancel the news conference was seen as a bowing to the reality that no good was going to come of the event.

“I don’t think he was going to score any points. Why would you want to give a hostile media an opportunity to ask you hostile questions?” said Barry Bennett, who served as a senior adviser on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. “I don’t think it was going to be a net benefit.”

Trump’s statement announcing the cancellation, released late Tuesday, came with the usual braggadocio. He said that he had made the decision in light of the “total bias and dishonesty” of the media and cast himself as a victim of Democratic partisanship.

Trump also said he would “discuss many of those important topics” at a rally that is scheduled for Jan. 15 in Arizona — at which he will face no tough questions and be surrounded by his adoring base.

Meanwhile, conservatives who are skeptical of Trump are breathing a huge sigh of relief that they will be spared the circus of a Jan. 6 news conference — the most emotive possible date for the former president to address the topic.

GOP strategist Dan Judy, who is aligned with the more moderate wing of the party, said, “When I heard it was canceled, I was like, ‘Thank God.’ Everyone could have predicted it would have been this totally revisionist view of what happened on Jan. 6.

“That would have been repugnant on its face, and it would also have been horrible for Republican candidates in the midterms, who have the wind at their backs and do not need this kind of ‘Rah-rah, Jan. 6!’ kind of talk.”

Others, of course, do not see it that way.

Two fervently pro-Trump members of Congress, Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), will hold their own event at the Capitol on Thursday afternoon. The duo, persistent instigators of controversy, are billing their news conference as “a Republican response” to the anniversary.

Gaetz and Greene are sure to strike a tone utterly at odds with President Biden and Vice President Harris, who will both deliver remarks at the Capitol on Thursday morning.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has also scheduled a number of events throughout the day at which members of her conference can mark the anniversary.

In the world beyond, some Democrats are trying to make sure that Trump and the GOP never get the taint of Jan. 6 off them.

On Wednesday, a leading Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA Action, announced a six-figure digital ad buy featuring two commercials, both of which portray Jan. 6 as a way station on a continuing journey by Trump and his allies to unpick American democracy.

Meanwhile, the work of the House select committee investigating the attack goes on. Its membership includes two of the few overtly anti-Trump Republicans in Congress, Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.). The panel is expected to begin public hearings soon, with some sources suggesting an interim report could come this summer and a final report in the lead-up to November’s midterm elections.

Trump continues to blast away at his opponents and to minimize the events of Jan. 6.

He retains the support of a significant base, and he has largely vanquished his internal opponents in the GOP.

But among the electorate writ large, there are some signs of weariness with Trump.

A CBS News-YouGov poll released in recent days indicated that 62 percent of Americans do not want him to seek the presidency again.

Even some Trump-sympathetic Republicans, meanwhile, suggest that GOP candidates should simply avoid talking about Jan. 6.

Brad Blakeman, who served in President George W. Bush’s White House and who was supportive of Trump throughout his presidency, said that if a Republican was asked about the insurrection, his advice would be “not to answer the question. It does no Republican any good to answer that question, because it only leads on to a critique of whatever is said.”

Asked if the importance of the event did not create an obligation to answer questions about it, Blakeman responded, “I don’t think it does, no.”

Trump seemed, briefly, to be taking a similar course.

After his Tuesday statement shelving his news conference, his public statements on Wednesday mostly focused on other topics. He blasted Biden’s COVID-19 response and complained about school closures in Chicago.

But, true to form, Trump was hardly going to be entirely quiet about the insurrection.

In his statement about Chicago schools, he digressed to complain that Democrats who would mark the anniversary of the insurrection were going to “fan the flames of a divide that THEY created.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

The Memo