Is the January 6 investigation working?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

“Working at what?” you might ask. Working to convince the DOJ to charge Trump with a crime?

I doubt it. If Merrick Garland were serious about that, he wouldn’t have waited until Trump is on the cusp of declaring his 2024 candidacy. That would make the charges look political — something Trump himself is counting on. Four sources told Rolling Stone that “as Trump talks about running … he’s leaving confidants with the impression that, as his criminal exposure has increased, so has his focus on the legal protections of the executive branch.” There’s no surer way to keep the Justice Department off your back than by running to become their boss again.


What about the midterms? Is the January 6 probe working to help Democrats there?

Again, I doubt it. Here’s what the generic ballot looks like since mid-April:

Republicans led by 2.8 points on April 18 and lead by 2.1 points today. Inasmuch as there’s been Democratic improvement over that span, it coincided with Roe being overturned in late June, not with the start of the January 6 hearings earlier that month. Inflation, gas prices, and abortion rights will influence how people vote this fall much more strongly than what Trump did 18 months ago will.

But how about 2024? Are the committee’s findings working to dissuade voters, especially independents, from giving Trump a second term?

According to new polling data, maybe so. I’ve always thought that was the point of the hearings — not to make a dent in Americans’ midterm preferences, which are already baked in, but to give swing voters and weary Republicans a reason to go in a different direction once Trump declares his candidacy. The hasty, abortive impeachment trial that took place last year failed to produce 67 votes to disqualify him from office. So the committee is building an elaborate case and taking it to the people in hopes of convincing them to disqualify Trump themselves.

It really might be working.

[Democratic pollster Research Collaborative] found that between mid-May and mid-June, support for the investigation increased by 8 percentage points, to 63%, driven mostly by independents, who are now seeing a criminal conspiracy play out, versus a spontaneous attack on a single day…

Then there are “soft Trump voters,” described by Research Collaborative as those who are conflicted about their 2020 vote for the former president. More of them now see Jan. 6 as a criminal conspiracy. Before the hearings, there was a 30-percentage-point gap between soft Trump voters who thought it was and those who didn’t. Now that gap has shrunk to only 8 points.

About 20% of soft Trump voters now believe that the former president and Trump Republicans pose a threat to the future of elections. That’s not to say Trump has completely lost his grip — more than half of such voters believe that Trump and Trump Republicans never posed a threat.


Does that mean Republicans, or at least “soft Republicans,” have been convinced that Trump is guilty of a crime? Nah. But I’ve always assumed that, apart from the 15 percent or so of righties who are firmly anti-Trump, there’s a much bigger contingent who will vote for him if they must but really want a different nominee next time. They’ll go through the motions of defending him as required, but if you can hand them some excuse to look for an alternative that doesn’t require them to embrace Democratic criticisms of him, they’ll seize it.

That’s what the committee is doing. By airing the dirty laundry of January 6, they’re giving GOPers who are ambivalent about Trump an excuse to say that he’s too damaged to win a general election. It’s not that they believe he did something wrong, merely that too many other people believe it for him to be electable. In 2024, to fulfill the party’s highest calling of owning the libs at the polls, we sadly must look elsewhere.

Never Trumper Sarah Longwell has seen a sea change lately in the focus groups she conducts with respect to whether Republicans want Trump to run again:


“Liz Cheney is doing all the work and Ron DeSantis is getting all the benefits,” Longwell wrote in another tweet, referencing today’s Michigan poll showing DeSantis within three of Trump there. The more doubt the committee raises about Trump’s electability, the more appealing DeSantis seems by contrast. In fact, the Michigan poll found that Trump’s favorability dropped from 84 percent in early May, before the hearings got going, to 76 percent as of last week. Their investigation really might be turning a small but meaningful share of the party who previously supported Trump against him.

Or, of course, he might be doing that himself. It’s unclear if the reason Trump’s support has softened among Republicans is because of what the committee is doing or because Trump himself won’t shut up about 2020 already. One Trump supporter in my own family who’s assuredly not watching the hearings told me last weekend that he thought Trump sounded nuts for still prattling on about the “rigged election.” A woman in one of Longwell’s focus groups said, “They keep talking about the results of the election and I feel like even when he’s doing his roadshow, he keeps bringing that up, like it’s, you know, a grudge. I just feel like we’ve moved past that.” In other words, it may not be that the hearings are damaging Trump so much as that the hearings are baiting him into damaging himself by fueling his obsession with the topic.


Whether by his own hand or by the Democrats’ and Liz Cheney’s, his case for 2024 is weakening. Which raises the question: If he ends up in a competitive primary with DeSantis, will Democrats undo the work they’ve done to damage him by … trying to help him win the nomination? They’ve done that with other MAGA candidates during this year’s races, running ads aimed at boosting fringy GOPers on the theory that they’ll be easier to beat in the general election. And certainly, Trump would be easier to beat than DeSantis would. Philip Bump wonders if Dems are prepared to help the architect of January 6 to a primary victory for their own benefit:

So what happens in two years? Let’s assume that Biden easily locks up the Democratic nomination (which is not a sure thing). Let’s assume, too, that this year’s elevation of right-wing candidates doesn’t backfire on Biden’s party. Would Democrats actively work to ensure Trump gets past Republican primary opponents? Would we see ads sponsored by deep-pocketed Democrats disparaging DeSantis as insufficiently MAGA in New Hampshire?

This is admittedly more of a thought experiment than anything. At what point do hyperclever political machinations undermine the party’s argument that democracy is under threat from a candidate’s election? Would the left see it as worth the risk of a second Trump presidency to shave a few points off general-election polling?


I think they’d resist the temptation in Trump’s case. As much as DeSantis will be demonized by lefties ahead of 2024, America’s near-miss with a coup attempt at Biden’s expense two years ago *should* be enough of a deterrent to keep Democrats from assisting the coup-plotter in his next primary. Although ask me about that again this fall if/when gas is $15 a gallon and Biden’s job approval is in single digits. Liberals might be so desperate to maximize their chances of holding the White House in 2024 that they’ll consider a de facto Trump alliance in the GOP primary.

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