Preliminary reports say that about 20 million people watched last night’s compelling hearing of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. That number, which does not include streaming or later views, is fewer than tune in for a normal State of the Union address, but more than for the World Series. In contrast, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 11-hour testimony in a 2015 Benghazi hearing drew only about 4 million viewers.
Reviews of the hearing have generally concluded that it was a powerful presentation that effectively put former president Trump at the center of a conspiracy to overturn our democracy. And there has been little convincing pushback from Trump loyalists. Conservative commentator Bill Kristol noted: “Tons of counter-programming from the Right. But no counter-evidence.”
Although Donald Trump Jr. claimed he didn’t even know the hearing was happening and urged followers not to watch, it was clear that the Trump camp could not look away and that the program’s high ratings—a metric former president Trump cares about deeply—have stung. He snarled at the presentation on his “Truth Social” platform, complaining that the committee refused “to play any of the many positive witnesses and statements,” although he did not specify which those might be.
In fact, a great deal of the power of the committee’s presentation last night came from the fact that many of its key witnesses were themselves members of Trump’s inner circle. Those witnesses included his attorney general, William Barr; Trump campaign spokesperson Jason Miller; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley; and Trump’s own daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. They established that Trump indeed knew he had lost the election, that he nonetheless stoked a movement to keep him in power, and that when the insurrectionists attacked the Capitol to stop the counting of electoral votes, he refused to intervene to protect lawmakers, law enforcement officers, or the law.
Both Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump appeared to turn against her father, and today he responded. Ivanka said she believed Barr when he told her that the 2020 election had not been stolen. Her testimony apparently infuriated her father, who said today that “Ivanka Trump was not involved in looking at, or studying, Election results. She had long since checked out and was, in my opinion, only trying to be respectful to Bill Barr and his position as Attorney General (he sucked!).”
As Trump’s attack on his daughter indicates, last night’s hearing appears to have exacerbated the chaos in the Republican Party as Trump and his supporters struggle to cling to power in the face of damning evidence that they tried to destroy our democracy.
The state of Michigan has embodied that chaos lately. Election machinery there has been compromised as pro-Trump activists got access to the system to try to prove voter fraud. Five right-wing candidates for governor got tossed off the primary ballot because the signatures on their nomination papers were fraudulent. The remaining front runner, Ryan Kelley, is a staunch Trump supporter who was at the Capitol on January 6; yesterday, the FBI arrested him for his participation in the attack.
Someone on Twitter described the Michigan Republican Party as a “hot mess.”
Pro-Trump activism is in the news in another way today, too. In 2020, Ginni Thomas, who is married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote to 29 members of the Arizona legislature to urge them to ignore Biden’s victory in the state and instead to choose their own electors who would back Trump’s reelection. We knew she had written to two legislators, but it turns out that number was off by a lot. While Ginni Thomas maintains that her work is separate from her husband’s, it is at the very least a problem that he has refused to recuse himself from cases in which her activism might have caused a conflict of interest.
And yet, despite the increasing mess around Trump, other Republicans won’t risk angering him or his voters. Yesterday, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) refused four times to answer whether President Biden was legitimately elected. Asked the question by ABC News chief Washington correspondent Jon Karl, McCarthy avoided antagonizing pro-Trump forces by saying that Biden is president without saying he was elected legitimately or that Trump is wrong to say the election was fraudulent.
And Trump is making it clear he will tolerate no sliding away among his loyalists. Earlier, Trump threw Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL), who spoke at the rally on January 6, overboard, only to discover that Brooks’s numbers rose. After considering endorsing Brooks again, Trump today instead backed his challenger in the upcoming election. Trump claimed that he has given up on Brooks because he told a crowd to put the 2020 election behind them and to move forward, but New York Times reporter Blake Hounshell wrote that Trump backed Brooks’s challenger because her husband, a former NFL player, wooed him.
There are increasing rumblings about new coalitions to ditch the radical extremists in the Republican Party who are trying to destroy democracy and replace them with candidates who still care about our democratic system. In the New Yorker yesterday, Sue Halpern outlined the effort in Utah to replace Senator Mike Lee, who participated in the effort to overturn the election, with Evan McMullin, a former Republican running as an independent. Democrats did not field their own candidate in that race and are instead backing McMullin. McMullin has made Lee’s support for Trump’s coup attempt central to his campaign, and he is now running close to Lee in the polls.
A number of bipartisan groups made up of anti-Trump Republicans and moderate Democrats are backing pro-democracy candidates for office, including Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), whose party turned against her after she supported the investigation into the attack on the Capitol.
But a Twitter thread by New York Times reporter Ben Collins today made it clear that the right wing in America has grown beyond Trump. In the right-wing spaces Collins reports on, he says that participants are aware of the hearing but unconcerned about it. Instead, they “have moved onto full-time anti-trans panic. It has consumed them.” They now care far more about fighting to control the nation’s LGBTQ population than about Trump. “They simply want a fight,” Collins wrote, “and are looking for whoever will start it fastest.”
Collins noted that on a website named for Trump that was a key site for organizing the insurrection, the lead quotation today came not from Trump, but rather from Florida governor Ron DeSantis.
At the beginning of last night’s hearing, Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) called out the link between political extremism in the U.S. and social control, both of which are about a small group of people dominating others, a minority imposing their worldview on a majority. “I’m from a part of the country where people justified the actions of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, and lynching,” Thompson said. “I’m reminded of that dark history as I hear voices today try to justify the actions of the insurrectionists on January 6, 2021.”
The Hearings opened well. Now the challenge is to keep to this tone and substance and press the facts and the crimes they implicate.
Pressure and more pressure, through the recitation of events, evidence, perpetrators and crimes committed, until the Attorney General wakes each morning with his ears ringing.
Though not as strong as we would like it to be, that our democracy still has a pulse is reassuring. Thank you, Heather, for today's Letter.