Reviews | Finally, the dam breaks against Trump

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During Thursday’s prime-time session, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) summed up the explosive impact of this summer’s hearings by the House Select Committee investigating the 6 January 2021.

“The dam,” she said, “started to break.”

Cheney, the committee’s deputy chairman, was largely talking about the new investigative opportunities that a parade of witnesses has opened up into President Donald Trump’s illicit efforts to hold on to power. But his statement had much wider implications.

The January 6 committee fundamentally changed the public perception of Trump’s role in the violence on Capitol Hill.

Analysis: It’s not just what Trump didn’t do on Jan. 6. That’s what he did too.

This has increased the likelihood that he will be prosecuted for his efforts – from Election Day to January 7, 2021 – to overturn the result of a free election. He has made the attack on our democracy a central issue in this fall’s midterm elections, and he will remain there with the September hearings announced by the committee.

It also weakened Trump’s political standing, within his party and with the wider electorate.

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The committee kept the promise originally made by Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) that his evidence would show that the Jan. 6 attack was the “climax of an attempted coup,” and not the work of an out-of-crowd control. The riot was one piece with Trump creating fake voter lists, pressuring GOP legislatures to reject valid election results and even asking a Republican election official in Georgia to “find” votes for him that did not exist.

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Trump harbored hopes that the chaos would block or delay congressional certification of his defeat, as Thursday’s hearing made clear. He was prepared to endanger the life of his Vice President, Mike Pence, for refusing to act illegally in obstructing Joe Biden’s victory. Against the advice of aides and family members, Trump allowed the criminal assault – by a horde he knew to be armed – to continue for hours. He did not (reluctantly) call the invaders back until it was clear his scheme had failed.

The committee’s presentation also showed that Republican politicians could pay a significant long-term price to stay loyal to Trump.

Trump’s mastery of the Republican Party was underscored by the reluctance of leaders who spoke out against him immediately after Jan. 6 to push the case any further. Either they resigned themselves to his power in the party and fell silent, or, in the case of Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and so many of his colleagues, reverted to pro-Trump sycophancy .

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So it must have been very satisfying for Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the Illinois Republican who co-led Thursday’s hearing with Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), to show footage of McCarthy denouncing Trump shortly after the attack. Since then, McCarthy has led the internal party persecution of Cheney and Kinzinger for continuing to insist on a truth that McCarthy recognized himself once.

The committee also called the GOP’s fake populist Ivy League caucus bluff. After showing a photo of Senator Josh Hawley (Republican of Missouri and Yale Law School) entering the Capitol with a raised fist in solidarity with the pro-Trump crowd, they released a video of him fleeing in terror as the violent crowd surged through the hallways.

Trump still has a grip on his party, and many of his non-election candidates have prevailed in the primaries. But recent survey in Michigan, New Hampshire and across the country suggests that a large portion of Republicans are looking for alternatives for 2024, growing weary of Trump and burning out with his refusal to give up his 2020 election defeat. Images from the he recording of a January 7 speech by Trump that captured his refusal to say “the election is over” showed how lies about 2020 are now at the heart of his political message.

By consistently calling on Republicans, including his former aides (not “his political enemies”, Cheney pointed out), to describe what Sarah Matthews, Trump’s former deputy press secretary, called “indefensible” behavior, the committee sought to move beyond a Democratic party base that already despises the former president.

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This, along with the committee’s commitment to hold more hearings this fall, is a message to the roughly one-fifth of Republicans who hold an unfavorable opinion of Trump as well as independent voters: The imperative this year is to defeat GOP politicians who refuse to face Trump’s crimes against democracy.

The word “crimes” is key to the other major effect of the committee’s work: While the Justice Department may once have feared that prosecuting Trump would seem “political,” it now has reason to be far more concerned about the message he would send if he fails to investigate and indict a former president so eager to trample the law and welcome violence.

The task of the committee was to ensure that Trump was held accountable – morally, politically and legally. On all these fronts, the dam has truly broken.

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