Former President Trump has in recent days ratcheted up his attacks on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the Capitol, deriding it as a “theatrical production of partisan political fiction.”
While the former president has dismissed the hearings as a “witch hunt” like every other investigation into his campaign or presidency, Trump’s increased focus on the hearings underscores the potential threat the committee’s findings could pose to a reelection bid in 2024 — should he choose one.
“Ultimately these hearings can be viewed as the conundrum that the Republican Party faces with a third presidential campaign and prospective nomination of President Trump,” said Sam Nunberg, a former adviser to the 2016 Trump campaign.
“He certainly is going to be the favorite when he announces, and I think it’s when,” Nunberg continued. “But this has taken the veneer off, I think, of the inevitability.”
The House committee investigating the riot has spent its first three hearings using depositions, live testimony and video footage to build a narrative that Trump was told repeatedly there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, but that he made claims to the contrary for weeks anyway, culminating in the violence of Jan. 6.
An ABC News-Ipsos poll conducted last Friday and Saturday found that while just 34 percent of respondents are following the hearings closely, 60 percent believe the committee is conducting a fair investigation.
The poll also found that 58 percent of respondents believe Trump bears a good or great amount of responsibility for the events of Jan. 6 and should be charged with a crime, though less than a quarter of Republicans feel that way.
While views on the committee largely fall along partisan lines, the poll indicates enough Americans are taking the proceedings seriously that it could be a real hurdle for Trump should he seek reelection, as many expect he will.
And Trump seems to be responding accordingly.
The president put out a 12-page document after the committee’s first two hearings that repeated several claims about election fraud that were debunked during the hearings themselves.
He has posted multiple times on Truth Social, his fledgling social media network, to dismiss the committee as partisan and one-sided and complain that he is not able to present his own witnesses who subscribe to the idea that there was widespread fraud.
The former president last week chided House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) for pulling all Republicans off the panel when Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected two of his picks. As a result, the only two GOP members are Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), two fervent Trump critics.
And Trump on Friday unloaded on the committee at length, accusing the panel of “spinning a fake and phony narrative in a chilling attempt to weaponize the justice system against their political opponents” and attacking Cheney and Kinzinger individually.
“It’s obviously having an effect, because we’re hearing from him,” said Doug Heye, a former spokesperson for GOP lawmakers and the Republican National Committee. “But what that effect is ultimately going to be, it’s way too early to tell.”
Any criminal prosecution of Trump would face certain legal hurdles in proving Trump’s intent and overcoming the wide protections granted to the executive office.
But other Republicans eyeing the 2024 nomination would have no such trouble using the events of Jan. 6 to argue it’s time for the country to move on from Trump, and it could provide a boost for a struggling Biden White House.
Former Vice President Mike Pence has presented a conservative agenda at various events in early primary states while distancing himself from his former boss, specifically on the matter of Jan. 6.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has polled well among Republicans, and even edged out Trump in a straw poll earlier this month at a Colorado conservative convention.
Even Biden, who has seen his approval rating plummet to record lows in recent months, is shown to be competitive when pitted against Trump in a hypothetical rematch and has previously welcomed the opportunity to run against his predecessor again in 2024.
Nunberg, the former Trump campaign aide, said Trump’s connection to Jan. 6 is not fatal to his chances, but could prove problematic for both a primary campaign and a general election campaign.
Heye, meanwhile, said the Jan. 6 hearings, which will continue on Tuesday, could add to “the Trump exhaustion factor” among some Republican and independent voters.
“You’ve got a lot of Republicans who are sort of angling to make moves depending on what Trump does, but it’s not clear yet if because of [the hearings] or any other reason that anybody would be willing to take him on directly,” Heye said.