The committee examined the 187 minutes then-President Donald Trump spent watching Fox News in his private dining room while the insurrection was unfolding at the US Capitol. Meanwhile, members of his inner circle tried and failed for hours to get Trump to issue an unequivocal statement denouncing the violence and urging the mob to go home.
Through the testimony of figures such as former Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Matthews and former Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger, the committee made a convincing case that Trump wasn’t just negligent — he didn’t want to stop the violent insurrection he incited against Congress on that dark day.
As this phase of the hearings concludes, one outstanding political question will certainly be debated: have the January 6 hearings significantly damaged Trump’s standing within the Republican Party?
History shows that major scandals do have the capacity to shift power dynamics within a major political party. If this story repeats itself, Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, or former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley might find a political window to overtake Trump as the 2024 nominee.
The nation saw a similar shift take place after Watergate. During the 1970s, the political fallout from the scandal opened the door to a new generation of conservative Republicans who were able to disconnect themselves from the legacy of the disgraced former President Richard Nixon.
Reagan drew the support of right-wing conservatives who weren’t moved by either the GOP or conservative Democrats in the South. And despite his failed campaign in 1976, Reagan opened the door for Republican candidates who were not part of the establishment. In 1980, Reagan went on to win the White House, shifting his party to the right, and bringing to Washington a new generation of conservatives who would remake public debate and change the national agenda.
It isn’t hard to imagine Republican candidates in 2024 trying the same playbook Reagan used in 1976 by attacking the former President for the baggage that comes from January 6 and arguing that the party needs fresh leadership if they are going to win back the White House.
But to paraphrase a quote often attributed to Mark Twain, the reports of Trump’s political death might be greatly exaggerated. 2024 is not 1974. Trump’s hold on the party seems much stronger than Nixon’s standing after Watergate. And with so many Republicans parroting Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen, the former President could easily rush back onto the scene and win the Republican nomination.
And unlike Nixon, Trump never resigned or indicated even the slightest twinge of remorse for his actions. There has never been a public admission of wrongdoing. There is no shame. This allows Trump room to maneuver going forward, and he has numerous conservative media outlets to promote his interpretation of events, just as he and his supporters have done with the Big Lie.
Regardless of what happens, we live in a historic moment when a president’s attempt to overturn an election is not an automatic disqualifier. That basic fact might say more than anything about the fragile state of American democracy.
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