As the US congressional committee investigating last year’s Capitol riot resumes its public hearings this week, experts have questioned whether the panel has been able to reach supporters of former President Donald Trump.
Committee members have said one of their primary goals is to make Trump’s role in the January 6, 2021 attack clear to the United States public, and over the course of eight public sessions, they have connected the events of that day to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
But with a ninth hearing set to take place on Wednesday, Trump’s grip on the Republican Party appears to remain firm.
“There’s a simple reason the hearings haven’t impacted Republican opinion: they aren’t watching,” Thad Kousser, a professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego, told Al Jazeera.
“It didn’t attract the eyeballs of people who had already dismissed January 6. If you’ve made up your mind that violently attacking the Capitol to overturn an election wasn’t a big deal, there’s probably not much that could sway you from that.”
Republican lawmakers largely wrote off the hearings from the start, refusing to cooperate and describing the panel’s work as a partisan effort to slander Trump, who delivered an incendiary speech to a crowd of his supporters just before the riot broke out in Washington, DC.
So far, the committee has said that Trump watched the attack on television as family members and advisers “begged” him to intervene; that he knew his election fraud claims were false, and that he nevertheless pressured Justice Department officials to back those allegations, among other things.
But evidence suggests that Republican voters have not been swayed by those findings.
A Monmouth University poll released on Tuesday found that 60 percent of Republicans still believe that President Joe Biden’s election victory was fraudulent, while another Monmouth poll in August found that 80 percent of Republicans had a positive view of Trump.
“Very few Republicans are even bothering to pay attention [to the hearings]. The party is now driven by loyalty to Donald Trump, so it’s not a surprise,” Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, told Al Jazeera. “There’s a strong partisan undertone to how people take on the information from the hearings, if they take it on at all.”
Murray added that the percentage of Americans who blame Trump for the riot has remained largely unchanged since June, with 38 percent saying Trump is directly responsible, 25 percent saying he encouraged those involved, and 33 percent saying he did nothing wrong.
Despite the committee’s argument that Trump incited the Capitol rioters as well as a string of ongoing legal problems, the former president remains the favourite to receive the party’s nomination in 2024, should he seek re-election.
Voters in Republican primaries ahead of November’s midterm elections also have punished officials who fail to display sufficient loyalty to him or push back against his false claim that the 2020 election was stolen through massive fraud.
The GOP has censured Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the two Republicans on the January 6 panel, and neither will return to Congress after the midterms.
Kinzinger decided not to seek re-election amid sustained criticism for joining the committee and voting to impeach Trump for his role in “inciting” the riot, while Cheney lost her August re-election bid in Wyoming to a Trump-endorsed challenger by an overwhelming margin of nearly 40 percentage points.
Some critics point out that though Cheney and Kinzinger have leaned into their roles as principled Republicans willing to take on Trump, both largely embraced the ex-president’s agenda during his time in the White House.
Still, their right-wing credentials did little to save them from the ire of Republican voters who increasingly prioritise loyalty to Trump. Other Republican officials who participated in the January 6 hearings have fallen to the same dynamic.
For example, Rusty Bowers, a member of the Arizona state legislature, lost a bid for state Senate after he appeared before the committee and testified that he had rebuffed Trump’s demands to overturn the will of Arizona voters in 2020.
Andrew Garner, a professor of American politics at the University of Wyoming, told Al Jazeera that this fits into a larger pattern of polarisation in US politics.
“People who vote in primaries tend to be more emotionally attached to their political party and view the other party with hatred and disgust,” Garner said. “Those voters will tend to punish candidates not seen as sufficiently loyal to their side, or too accommodating of the other side, regardless of the candidates’ respective policy positions.”
But while the January 6 panel may not have broken through Trump’s hold on Republicans, Kousser noted that this is not the sole metric of its success.
While loyalty to Trump and a willingness to embrace the stolen election lie may remain vital issues for the GOP’s most passionate supporters, they could alienate others, he said. “The committee took pains to connect Trump to January 6,” said Kousser.
“It’s one of many factors that could make his brand a blessing and a curse for Republicans in swing states. It’s reminded people they aren’t just voting against Biden and inflation; they’re voting for the party of Donald Trump.”