Over the past two weeks, millions of Americans have tuned in to an unlikely reality TV smash hit: the broadcast hearings by the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. After years of fueling former President Donald Trump’s need for constant media attention, the GOP could be hit by the very thing it has become addicted to: high television ratings.
More than 20 million viewers tuned in for the first week of committee hearings, a huge number for House committee business and nearly 1 million more tuned in for the “Game of Thrones” series finale. And while ratings have dipped slightly since the successful first session, the committee is still posting numbers that would warrant renewal for any television show.
There are already signs that public opinion is changing and the Democrats have political opportunities. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans now believe Trump should be charged with a crime for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 attack.
Thursday’s hearings, featuring a host of Trump Justice Department officials including former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, offered even more alarming information, including Trump’s demand that Justice Department officials “just say [the 2020] the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the congressional republicans”.
American voters have already heard shocking details of how Trump, his key advisers and senior White House staff were far more complicit in the attack on the US Capitol than many Americans likely realized. Those hearings, which Jan. 6 committee chairman Bennie Thompson, D.-Miss., now says will stretch into July, have all the makings of a political nightmare for the GOP.
More importantly, Republicans are faced with a mountain of physical evidence, including damning text messages and email chainswhich shows top White House officials pressuring congressional Republicans to nullify the 2020 election. That’s far more shocking than the sound bites describing this activity by Democrats and Biden administration officials, whose words can be more easily dismissed by skeptics.
Then there’s the direct testimony from respected Republican public officials like former federal judge J. Michael Luttig, who described Trump as being in a “war” with democracyor then-Vice President Mike Pence’s White House counsel, Greg Jacob, who shared emails detailing the White House’s attempt to blame Pence for the attack.
Even if many Americans are unmoved by these revelations, the political landscape has now changed: Voters are once again focusing on the chaotic events of January 6. The GOP is forced to go on the defensive in front of a massive national audience just as the party was getting through a tough primary season that saw multiple bitter fights between Republican factions for and against Trump.
The January 6 GOP caucus issues are a rare opportunity for Democrats to bash Republicans on an issue they simply don’t have good answers for. If President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats don’t use this moment to hold Republicans politically responsible for the failed coup, they should pack their bags and spare Americans the trouble of handing Congress over to Republican control in November.
There are already signs that public opinion is changing and the Democrats have political opportunities. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans now believe Trump should be charged with a crime for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 attack, according to a ABC News/Ipsos Poll made over the weekend. That’s a big jump from January, when a Economist/YouGov survey found that only 41% of Americans believed that Trump should be referred for criminal charges.
This shift also comes as significant groups of Americans are still undecided about the events of January 6 and, by definition, persuasive. A Economist/YouGov survey released after the first two weeks of hearings found that more than half of Americans believe the Jan. 6 attack was an insurrection, with an additional 18 percent of those surveyed saying they simply weren’t sure. what to think. In a midterm election cycle where control of Congress rests uncomfortably on a very fine marginthose swing voters represent a political lifeline for Democrats.
To be sure, these numbers reflect that Americans are turning out for the committee’s citation hearing on January 6. ABC News broadcast the hearings live on your TikTok accounttaking advantage of the de facto public forum for the young and politically engaged. On MSNBC, Media Matters President Angelo Carusone even commented Headline clips from the hearings dominated social media. That was true even on Facebook, where right-wing content enjoys absolute dominance about the content promotion algorithm of the social network.
Republicans are doing their best to play down made-for-TV moments, like the revelation that an allegedly drunk Rudy Giuliani gave Trump the basis for what would become the “big lie” that the 2020 were fraudulent (Giuliani denies drinking). But the Republicans attempts to minimize audiences are collapsing, especially when facing moments like the scathing testimony from Georgia poll workers Wandrea “Shay” Moss and Ruby Freemanwho described how Trump’s election lies cost them their jobs, led to death threats and still affect their daily lives.
The candid and heartbreaking testimonies of Moss and Freeman became a media sensation, trending on twitter and driving headline coverage in major media outlets. Republican efforts to portray the audience as an empty theater … No. Democrats would be wise to follow the lead of the hearing and ensure that powerful stories like Moss and Freeman stay in front of voters well into November.
The irony is that Republicans are no stranger to using live congressional hearings as major media events. That was certainly his plan in 2015, when then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy bragged about turning GOP hearings in Benghazi into a powerful media weapon against then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“Everyone thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” McCarthy told Fox News host Sean Hannity in September 2015. “But we put together a special Benghazi committee. A select committee. What are your numbers today? Their numbers are falling. Why? Because she is mistrustful. But no one would have known any of that had happened if we hadn’t fought to make it happen.”
After dragging out the Benghazi investigation for two years and more than 30 hearingsended up producing no new evidence implicates Clinton in wrongdoing. But that hardly mattered: the investigation and the hearings hung over Clinton’s public image throughout the 2016 presidential campaign. Now the Democrats have a majority in the House and they have something that McCarthy and the GOP never had: a real and verifiable case of misconduct.
The January 6 committee is making a convincing argument that many top Republicans were involved in the events that became the Capitol insurrection. Democrats now have a clear moral and civic responsibility to ensure that as many Americans as possible not only see the highlights of these explosive hearings, but fully understand why Republicans cannot be trusted to run our democracy.