Tomorrow is the first anniversary of last January 6’s Capitol riot, and it’s also when we’ll see the new monthly U.S. trade figures (which I’m really anxious to cover). So I figured I’d post today on what to me is the most fascinating and important development stemming from that day’s tumult: Contrary to my expectations, the impact on American elective politics has been pretty slight so far and may well stay minimal. And that includes on the question of Donald Trump’s political future.
Before starting the political analysis, let me recap my main views on the actual events of January 6, the run up to them, and their immediate aftermath.
First, anyone who forced their way into the Capitol building, or even past the security barricades then erected around its perimeter, should be punished severely. Ditto for anyone who planned these actual attacks, and anyone illegally present in the building or anywhere on the Capitol grounds who resisted arrest and/or destroyed property.
Second, anyone illegally inside the building who didn’t act violently should be punished, too, though less severely (for reasons explained nicely by CNN here and here). For even if they just wandered in once the entrances were left unguarded, it should have been obvious from the chaos and violence they must have seen and/or heard that something was very wrong. Moreover, it’s a well established principle that ignorance of the law (in this case, trespassing on government grounds) is no defense.
Third, I see no valid argument for going after individuals who were simply present on the Capitol grounds outside the building and stayed outside, and even less of a case for action against those who simply attended the Trump rally that preceded the attack. And this includes actions taken by public or private employers.
Fourth, too many important, disturbing, and unanswered questions about Capitol security procedures and preparations remain unanswered. Principally, why weren’t the big metal doors on the Capitol’s ground level closed immediately after it became obvious that a crowd was milling about that included folks with bad intent? And why was the security presence so light to begin with?
Fifth, Nothing said by Trump at the rally qualified in legal terms as incitement to riot. Consequently, that argument for impeachment and removal was always bogus. Another argument was stronger, but in my view still inadequate – Trump’s delay (which I described as “reckless”) in urging the Capitol breachers to cease and desist at once, and in condemning their actions. It’s inadequate because it was a delay (in carrying out his Constitutional duties to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed”), not a refusal or a failure.
It’s possible that the investigations into the January 6 events by the (Biden) Justice Department or Congress’ January 6 committee might uncover stronger evidence of Trump culpability on any of these counts. But we simply haven’t arrived at that point yet.
These positions led to the three main political conclusions I drew about January 6:
>the former President would remain influential in Republican circles (particularly at the grassroots level), but that these favorability ratings would fade;
>Republican political fortunes would take a major and possibly lasting hit, as Democrats would miss no opportunity to remain voters about January 6, especially as elections approached; and
>support for Trump-ian positions on his core issues, notably China and trade policies, and immigration, would be significantly undermined.
As of today, however, these quasi-predictions are looking overblown at best, at least if numerous major national polls are generally on target.
Is Trump’s standing in Republican ranks diminished? As it’s been throughout the year (see, e.g., here and here), the evidence continues to be all over the place. For example, this CBS News survey shows that only 56 percent of self-identified Republicans want the former President to seek reelection in 2024.
At the same time, a new Reuters poll shows that no other likely alternative candidate is even close to him as the GOP’s favorite in the next White House race.
Does this mean that Trump’s only looking good to Republicans because his intra-party competition appears so unimpressive? That’s possible. Yet this Pew Research Institute poll shows that these same voters rate Trump’s presidential performance as nearly as highly as that of the revered Ronald Reagan.
Some similarly, seemingly contradictory, trends can be found in the national electorate’s views of Trump. That aforementioned CBS survey reported that a mere 26 percent of all U.S. adults want Trump to run again in 2024 (including only 23 percent of independents). According to recent RealClearPolitics.com averages, though (which combine the results of several individual soundings), Trump would beat President Biden in the popular presidential vote if the contest were held today.
And public opinion on the blame for January 6 seems pretty irrelevant. How else can you explain this Washington Post-University of Maryland finding that 60 percent of American adults believe that Trump bears “a great deal” or “a good amount” of blame for the riot?
Nor are there many signs that the GOP’s image overall has been tarnished by January 6 or by the party’s response to the Capitol attack or its reaction to whatever responsibility Trump deserves. The strongest evidence: Since November, Democrats have fallen behind Republicans in RealClearPolitics‘ gauge of which party Americans would support in a “generic” race for a seat in Congress.
Most alarmist of all have been my fears that the public would turn against Trump-ian trade and immigration policies. Indeed, hard lines on China (which Mr. Biden has largely embraced) and on border security (which the President has clearly botched) are more popular among the electorate than ever.
In my defense, my initial reaction to the politics of January 6 did include the caveat that any damage to the Trump or Republican images could be limited, and even overcome, either if Americans’ characteristically short memories simply reasserted themselves again, or if they soured big-time on Mr. Biden. Clearly, the nation has seen a good deal of both.
Yet could outrage over the Trump and Republican January 6 roles and responses still be successfully stoked by Democrats going forward? To date, that doesn’t seem likely. Democrat Terry McAuliffe tried this tack in last November’s Virginia governor race – explicitly warning that a victory by Republican rival Glenn Youngkin would boost Trump’s future presidential prospects. He failed miserably. And these two polls (here and here) reveal only middling-at-best national trust in the fairness of the January 6 committee.
Again, future bombshell revelations can’t be ruled out. But for the time being, it looks like for better or worse, the American public is steadily moving on from January 6. Will the Democrats? Can they?